Welcome to Moab: A Service Story
On today’s menu is the housing crisis served with a side of worker shortages. Comes with free burnout. Take a listen to this radio special from KZMU in Moab.
It’s clear that the housing crisis turned worker shortage is threatening to gut employment sectors at every level in Moab. In this special, we zero in on our local restaurants, arguably the most public-facing businesses in our service industry. You’ll hear from restaurant employees across different types of eateries talk about their experience working in Moab at this moment. They’re working in an ongoing pandemic, in the busiest longest most harrowing of seasons. A season where there’s more business than ever but business owners themselves are worried about keeping the doors open as everyone struggles to find and keep housing. You’ll hear how local independent restaurant owners are scraping it together and their thoughts on the future. And you’ll hear a bit about mental health, too.
Many thanks to Ann, Jen, Natali, Alex, Wes, Bella, Mardee, Ruth, Louis, Meghan, Jacqueline, and Cozy for sharing your stories on our airwaves and illustrating how restaurants help keep communities vibrant.
Every week, someone will be like, ‘oh, I got kicked out of my house, the owner sold.’ I’m constantly trying to find housing for staff. It is a constant thing. That is the number one thing that we do is we’re trying to find housing for our staff, because we cannot keep the doors open and serve the public without staff.Meghan, 98 Center
It comes up with customers. That is something they want to know about, like – ‘there are a lot of people here, but everyone is short staffed…what’s going on? Why is the service so bad?’ And then [I take] a deep breath, like, how much energy do I want to spend? Is this a person who is actually asking that question from a place of heart and care of the community, and they want to know why people aren’t working and serving them to the best of their ability? When they represent the force that is driving a lot of that lack of control around the greed and who gets to live here and stay here and why. So yeah, it is kind of complicated to sort of look them in the eye and be like, ‘well…why don’t I just get you more wine? Welcome to Moab.’Ruth, Josie Wyatt’s Grille
There’s been this shift where lack of business isn’t the problem anymore – it’s lack of staffing. But due to lack of staffing, business owners are forced to make a decision that ultimately affects their bottom line…I worry about this gutting of the middle. The middle and the lower range places. And I think that that’s where a lot of the creativity and the magic happens and the community happens in towns are the places that aren’t five star and ridiculously expensive, because they’re accessible to a broader audience. And I think these are the places that are struggling the most.Anne, cofounder Hot Tomato Pizzeria
We had a review come in from a local…saying that they would never come back because something happened. And I’m like, do you know what we’re going through? Do you realize how much that hurts especially for me, like, it’s all about the locals. It’s always been. I wish they knew what we were going through. I want to talk about what’s going on because it’s really stressful and everyone’s at their max. The person [that local] was talking to…still hasn’t found a house and lives in their car with their dog and is doing the best they can and still shows up every day…We’re all little ticking time bombs and can we just have a little bit more space and support and love and understanding of what we’re all going through?Natali, 98 Center
I think that there’s this component of emotional burnout in the service industry coming out of COVID. It’s always been challenging being on the front lines of service, and then being the mask police, dealing with people being angrier than normal has been this added thing. But that definitely takes a very far backseat to housing. Housing is number one.Anne, cofounder Hot Tomato Pizzeria
I’ll just doomsday the whole thing for you right now. You kind of have to put the pieces together. But basically, what’s happening right now, there’s no employees to be had. The employees you do have, you have to pay more. And along with that, specifically in the restaurant industry, all the food costs are going up. All goods and services, all the commodities are going up due to the pandemic. So, if you put all those into play…the restaurant industry’s going to be hit really hard next year, and there’s gonna be a lot of people that are going to close. And there’s going to be a lot of people struggling. And it’s definitely a scary proposition. And then you throw in the housing shortage here in Moab…I mean, next year is going to be a struggle.Wes, Love Muffin Cafe
We were about to buy a house this summer and the seller backed out and then put the house back on the market for a fairly large amount more than she had offered to us…It was really terrible, because it was the end of the lease at our other house. So we lost that house as well. And, yeah, we had like a month to figure everything out. And luckily, all the locals that we know helped us out…but it was a little bit scary for a little while…I’d say our wages are actually pretty fair. It’s the housing market itself being so high. It’s just hard as a cafe worker to have the income to really be able to get a house in this area, unfortunately.Mardee, Love Muffin Cafe
There is an in-town [parking] spot…It’s a lot of service industry folks that park there. And earlier in the season, the cops did come in at like 11PM or so and kick everyone out. And I have gone back there a couple times since then. But at what point is it like…I just finished a double, I’ve got another double tomorrow. Do I want to chance getting woken up somewhere between 11PM and 2AM and asked to relocate? …I’d say the mental health part has been really hard. The lack of the ability to have a regular routine has been challenging.Jacqueline, 98 Center
If tourism keeps exploding the way it is at the rate it’s going – it doesn’t make sense to me. And I don’t know much about governing a local community or anything like that. But it seems very obvious that if it keeps going at this rate, then it will either explode or implode on itself leaving the community really devastated…I can’t even say that I don’t like tourism, because that’s not even the case. I make my money off tourists. I’m part of the service industry. And the majority of jobs here are of service to people. Whether it be guiding or hospitality and hotels or serving or what have you. And so I don’t want tourism to go away. I just think that it is way out of balance. And the locals are left with…the sh-t end of the stick.Cozy, 98 Center
We are just working, trying to make the restaurant work with [what] little people that we have. It’s the same in the kitchen. Understaffed. It’s been a weird year for sure. It’s been the weirdest year ever. I was talking to my co-workers yesterday about it. How different it feels. Like, we’re trying to be happy but it is not the same. It’s really not the same.Louis, Spitfire Smokehouse
I moved to Moab because of the community. It was really special here. And then decided to open a business and then another business here. And the community is really what I’ve enjoyed about this town of Moab. And I really want it to continue and move forward in a sustainable way. And right now it feels like we’re at a point in the tourism sector that it’s just really coming down hard on us as the small business owners here…We would like to have a good plan. And know and understand that this town is going to move forward and the community leaders such as council members and county commissioners and hopefully the state leaders can help us move forward and not just let tourism run our lives.Alex, 98 Center/Sabaku Sushi
Ghost Town, A Film By Passenger Media:
Work in the local restaurant industry? Want to share your experience with the Ghost Town filmmakers? Contact:
Music and other sounds heard in today’s special:
Crowded Park by TravieDoodle
bar chatter by SoundsExciting
FunkBox by Ketsa
Way-to-West by Ketsa
Chillflow (makaih.com) by Makiah Beats
The Journey by Audiobinger
Happy-Chappy by Ketsa
Note: this special contains language that has been un-beeped for the podcast.
Molly Marcello reported this story