Worker shortage forces popular inn to temporarily close restaurant

·3 min read

Amid peak tourism season, and the first restriction-free summer since 2019, a landmark inn in one of Southwestern Ontario’s beach hot spots has closed its restaurant temporarily because it can’t hire enough staff.

The family-run Kettle Creek Inn, nestled in the Lake Erie beach town of Port Stanley, closed its restaurant on July 10 because of a shortage of kitchen staff.

“As with most places in the restaurant industry, we have faced problems getting enough good kitchen staff,” said Jean Vedova, who co-owns the hotel and eatery with her two sons.

“It has been difficult ever since COVID occurred, but it became increasingly difficult quite recently, which necessitated us to close until we can solve our issues.”

The inn’s kitchen typically has nearly 10 workers but recently had operated with just six to seven.

Temporarily closing the eatery “was not an easy solution,” Vedova said, adding she is thankful staff can still keep their accommodations open.

The labour shortage plaguing restaurants across the country comes as tourism hot spots such as Port Stanley, a community of about 3,000 people, face their first restriction-free summer since 2019.

“Hotels and restaurants are growing tremendously after these last few months,” said Tony Elenis, president and chief executive of Ontario Restaurant Hotel and Motel Association, an umbrella organization representing the industry at the provincial and municipal level.

“But the problem is inflation — everything costs a lot more — and finding people to address the traffic that is coming in,” he said, noting most tourists are from within Canada.

The labour crunch, an issue exacerbated by the pandemic, Elenis said, comes at a time when baby boomers — those born between 1946 and 1964 — are retiring and fewer young people are available to fill jobs. Tougher immigration policies also make it difficult to bring in workers, he added.

As well, many food industry workers left for retail jobs during the pandemic.

Between accommodations and food service, the sector is short about 250,000 workers, he said, citing hotel room attendants, dishwashers and cooks as the positions with the most vacancies.

Back at Kettle Creek Inn in Port Stanley, Vedova said the restaurant is working on recruiting. She and her sons initially had hoped to reopen the restaurant on July 27 but she is “very doubtful” that will happen. “It depends on whether we can get good, qualified people.”

The hotel and restaurant, built in 1849 as a summer home for the town’s justice of the peace, was converted into an inn in 1918. The Vedova family restored and expanded the property in 1983.

“(Guests) have been coming here for a very, very long time. And it’s not just from Port Stanley or St. Thomas. They’re coming from further afield and are quite upset for us,” Vedova said.

She understands why some may be disappointed to learn the restaurant is temporarily closed, “that they can't be doing what they traditionally have done, which is having good food at the Inn and sitting outside, enjoying nature.”

cleon@postmedia.com

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Calvi Leon, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press