NORFOLK, Va. - Any way you slice it, the past year and a half has been rough for restaurant owners.
"Nobody was even downtown at all. A lot of businesses closed up," recalls Peter Freda, who's owned Granby Street Pizza for more than 15 years. Freda's business, a downtown Norfolk staple, has survived COVID restrictions and now staffing shortages that have plagued the industry.
"We actually had a sign out there, probably for three or four weeks straight, looking for a dishwasher and a server. And I actually got a couple of dishwashers through that program," Freda says.
Freda, now fully staffed, is one of the fortunate ones. On a quick walk through downtown, News 3 anchor Blaine Stewart found "Now Hiring" and "Help Wanted" signs outside several restaurants and businesses.
That's no surprise, as the Virginia Employment Commission reports restaurants, retail and the like are bearing the brunt of people leaving the workforce.
Based on the State of the Region report by ODU's Dragas Center, there are four main reasons why people left the service industry. Some made more money with the enhanced unemployment benefits, which have now ended. Others quit because of childcare issues, or because they were concerned about catching COVID themselves. And another group of people simply found a better job.
"My first weekend off was an amazing thing."
-Tom Schweitzer, Recently changed careers
Just this month, Tom Schweitzer, 29, left his job working inside a busy convenience store for a human resources position with another company. Now, he doesn't even have to leave his Norfolk condo to get to work.
"I just think that the quality of life and being able to have my weekends off coming from the retail life, it's a little bit different," Schweitzer says about his decision to leave the customer service industry.
For Schweitzer, a stable schedule and better working conditions made the move a no-brainer.
"No regrets," he says.
Restaurant owners know that's what they're up against. Back on Granby Street, Peter Freda tells News 3 he's doing all he can to convince his staff to stick around.
"They work many long hours, and you just may have to pay them a little bit more to entice them to come to work for you. And, you know, hopefully, that works."