When he opened Surf and Turf opened in late May, Steve Akoglu hoped to bring a high-end steakhouse to Milford. All the furnishings were in place in April 2020, but the pandemic prevented opening that spring. He again hoped he could open the new restaurant in September 2020 but rumors the state may shut down again led him to wait until May 2021. Unfortunately, a new challenge presented itself after the restaurant opened, leading Akoglu to make the difficult decision to close temporarily.
“I cannot get help,” Akoglu said. “I had 15 college students working as servers and kitchen help. They have all gone back to college. I cannot find anyone to replace them. No one wants to work. I have no help. I have been trying for three months to get steady, good help and they just aren’t here. I hire people and they just don’t show up for work or they don’t want to work more than a few hours a day. I even offered overtime to some of my remaining kitchen staff, and they turned me down.”
Akoglu also owns The Palace in Milford as well as a restaurant in Georgetown. He explained that the staff at The Palace has been with him seven or eight years and have remained loyal which has allowed him to continue operating that restaurant. Because Surf and Turf is new, he has not been able to build a staff with the same loyalty. Although he tried shifting staff to Surf and Turf from The Palace, he felt that both restaurants were suffering due to the staffing shortage.
“Right now, I am getting applicants,” Akoglu said. “But I don’t want an applicant who is only filling out the form so they can submit it to unemployment to show they are looking for work. I need people who are willing to do the work. The restaurant industry is not easy. I am well aware of that. But it is a very rewarding career if you put the work into it.”
Although Akoglu feels that the current extended unemployment benefits are a problem, he also thinks that there are many opportunities for people that make it harder for the restaurant industry to find workers. App-driven employment like Uber, Lyft, Instacart and others can provide people with a flexible schedule and a steady income. Because it is more difficult for restaurants to offer flexible schedules, they are competing against companies who appeal to what has been called “gig workers,” people who work as independent contractors or freelancers. Akoglu explained that finding help has been a problem since he opened the new restaurant.
“We had planned to open for lunch each day, but we could never do it,” Akoglu said. “So many restaurants around the country are struggling. At the beach, many are not opening for breakfast or lunch, only serving dinner, while others can only manage breakfast and lunch. I started closing on Monday and Tuesday. Then I had staff complaining they weren’t getting enough hours, so I suggested opening for lunch so they could have that shift. Then I got excuses that they had kids, or they didn’t want those hours. I just don’t know how we can manage the restaurant industry if this continues.”
Surf and Turf is the second restaurant in the same area to close temporarily this year. In May 2021, Milford Diner, which is located across the highway from Surf and Turf, announced they would close temporarily. The iconic restaurant is still closed although Terri Rosetta, co-owner of the Milford Diner, hopes to reopen soon. They are interviewing now for help and are hiring all positions.
“Now that unemployment is ending, we are getting responses,” Rosetta said. “Now my only concern is being shut down when I am trying to get open. We have not sold the Diner nor did the bank take it from us. We simply couldn’t get the staff we needed to run it properly, but that seems to be changing. I had probably 20 cars in the parking lot because people saw my car there and wanted to apply.”
As of now, the Federal CARES Act Unemployment Program will end September 6 which means all unemployment benefits will end on that date. Akoglu hopes that it will push people to return to work. Anyone who is interested in applying for a position should visit The Palace to fill out an application. Anyone interested in applying for a position with Milford Diner should email them at [email protected].
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