Facing staffing crisis, local restaurant owner raises wages to compete with amount offered by unemployment

Local News

DEWITT, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — The owner of Bull & Bear Roadhouse tells NewsChannel 9 that he’s raising wages paid to his back-of-house staff by $4 per hour to directly compete with the amount being offered by unemployment.

Mark Bullis, who owns three locations in DeWitt, Fayetteville and Clay, says the bonus will last as long as unemployment does and may continue in some form after.

Bullis says the raise is to reward the staff who’ve been loyal to their jobs through the pandemic, as one third of their co-workers never returned after the shutdown, some afraid, but others being paid not to work.

“We’re competing directly with unemployment,” Bullis said in an interview with NewsChannel 9 right after he told his staff about the raises. “That’s never happened before in history, at least my history.”

People on unemployment can get paid as much as $800 per week: $500 from New York State and a $300 pandemic-era bonus from the Federal Government through, at least, September. That’s $20 per hour without the work.

Bullis’ $4-per-hour raise will get staff wages to match unemployment, incentivizing them to stay but also intended to attract workers back from unemployment. Bullis said he could hire 30 people immediately.

Bullis said, “I’ve never been one to get behind something like this so I’m trying to get out ahead of it. I know what the summer is going to bring. I know that people want to have fun. They want service. We have to figure out how we’re going to do that and how we are going to reward the people to come (work) rather than stay home.”

Bullis admits it’s not simply out of the kindness of his heart. He knows he needs a full staff to keep his business alive. Without a full staff, Bullis worries, customers will wait longer for a table and for their order.

“I beg people to be patient,” Bullis asks his customers who won’t see as many tables open and as much staff in his restaurants. “This is going to be an interesting summer. It’s a crisis. I’m concerned it will be worse as a result than the pandemic itself.”

The raises will cost Bull & Bear, as a company, nearly $100,000. Some of the money will come from the Federal Government’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).

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