P.E.I. restaurant in 'a crisis' as cook shortage threatens opening

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P.E.I. restaurant in 'a crisis' as cook shortage threatens opening

P.E.I. restaurant in 'a crisis' as cook shortage threatens opening

A P.E.I. restaurateur says for the first time he's considering staying closed for the upcoming summer season and not because business has been slow — there aren't enough cooks for his kitchen.

"It's kind of elevated to a crisis," said Michael Wheeler, owner and operator of The Lost Anchor in Cavendish, P.E.I.

Threat of staying closed for the season

Wheeler said he's placed job ads on Facebook, Kijiji, and government websites. He's even offering $250 for a referral and a $500 signing bonus but said he hasn't been able to find experienced kitchen staff for the upcoming season yet.

The restaurant requires three cooks in the kitchen but can get by with two, Wheeler said. He's even resorted to jumping on the kitchen line himself when there isn't enough staff to cook. 

Now, for the first time since opening its doors, Wheeler said The Lost Anchor might have to remain closed for the season if they can't hire cooks — a move that would not only hurt him, but other staff at the restaurant as well.

"We rely so much on tourism on Prince Edward Island and it's such a short season…. If you don't make your money in the two months, unfortunately you've missed it."

More work for existing cooks

The Lost Anchor isn't the only restaurant struggling to hire cooks. Rick Renaud is the owner and operator of Rick's Fish and Chips in St. Peter's Bay, P.E.I., which has been open for almost 30 years. 

Renaud said in the last two to three years, hiring kitchen staff has gotten more difficult. 

The restaurant hires about nine cooks for the season, but Renaud said as of right now, the business is short a few people in the kitchen. 

"It just adds more load to the cooks that I do have," Renaud said. 

Renaud said he tries to build a team by offering competitive wages and shorter working hours than can be typical in most kitchens. 

"You have to if you want to hold your staff, and we try incentives as far as staff functions and stuff like that."

Part of a national trend

Carl Nicholson, president of P.E.I. Restaurant Association, said he thinks the cook shortage on P.E.I. is part of a trend in restaurants across Canada.

"It may be hours, it may be working conditions, not wanting to work in a hot environment like that. I think people are just gravitating toward other positions," he said.

He said education programs are key to informing potential employees of what restaurant positions have to offer.

Renaud also said increasing wages, adjusting hours of operations, and improving work environments might have to be some of the changes restaurateurs will need to make to lure more cooks into their kitchen.

"I think every operator is looking at their operation and seeing what they can do in order to continue on when faced with the challenges that they have."

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