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Broad Ripple restaurant can't open to in-person dining because it's struggling to fill open positions

Jobs are becoming available, but some employers are having a tough time hiring
Fire By the Monon
Posted at 11:59 AM, May 06, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-06 17:05:15-04

INDIANAPOLIS, IN — INDIANAPOLIS — The U.S . Department of Labor releases its new numbers on unemployment claims later this week. Claims have been filed, though they still remain high, with thousands of Hoosiers out of work.

It's raising the question, why is it hard for some businesses, like restaurants, to fill their open positions?

WRTV spoke with the owner of one popular restaurant in Broad Ripple about the struggle to hire Hoosiers.

The owner of Fire by the Monon, Joe Cominsky, said for him, owning a restaurant is a family affair.

"I was either cursed or blessed and I'm still not sure when, but my parents owned restaurants when I was a kid,” said Cominsky. He said, “It's all I've ever done, and it's all I know how to do and, boy, if I have to go find a job other than this one, I'm in deep water.”

Deep water, because the impact of the pandemic is causing a hiring issue. You see, he still hears from customers regularly, but he can't reopen to in-person dining without a staff.

Throughout his eight years of owning this restaurant, Joe says applications usually come in thick stacks. However, he's now stuck doing 100% to-go orders and he's gone so far as to post "now hiring" signs outside of the building.

Still, he can't get people to fill positions, even after they request an interview.

Cominsky said, "Lots of them. And none of them (the people who call) show up."

WRTV asked him, "Why do you think that is?"

He said, "I'm not sure. A lot of people are quick to blame it on the unemployment, and while I think that that may be a piece of it. I don't think that it's the big piece."

Fire By the Monon

Cominsky said one possibility is, "Maybe they decided to go back to school. Maybe they got into a completely different field, but they're gone."

The other possibility WRTV asked about, was pay. Our Megan Shinn asked, “Do you think $15 is the new norm that you have to do now or something?"

He responded, "Yeah, and we're at that. You know we're willing to do what we need to do to get people to come on board, but we're up against competition from large corporations: Costco, Target, Amazon. All (of them) pay significantly more money."

Competition aside, the result is the same. Cominsky sees empty job openings and vacant tables, even though Marion County will let him open the doors to more customers.

He said he needs at least ten employees to re-open the restaurant, and twenty-five to get to the staffing level he had pre-pandemic.

"We've never had any trouble staffing people I've had people who have worked here with me the entire eight years that I've been here."

Diane Eads-Wiggins is that employee. She said, “Well, I love working here. I can't wait to reopen because we have the most wonderful guests that you could ever have in restaurant."

Now, eight years into working here, she's got the menu "down to a T."

"This is the best place I've ever worked. But I've never seen anything like this,” said Eads-Wiggins.

She also shared her personal opinion on why there's a hiring hurdle for many businesses.

She said, "People like staying at home and getting paid."

To Eads-Wiggins, working in the restaurant business and at Fire by the Monon is a no brainer.

"I stayed in this business because you can go anywhere and get a job, you know, just amazes me that people aren't applying for jobs, especially here,” said Eads-Wiggins.

Now Joe's hoping, this pandemic won't stay a curse and help him bring back the blessing of in-person customers and his employees.

Cominsky said, "And it's always been kind of a coveted place to work."

"It's all about the people and always has been in this business, always will be.” Cominsky said, "And that's kind of I think where we've excelled over the years and, Gosh I hope we get back there soon."

On a positive note, the folks behind Mr. Peanut recently recognized Fire By the Monon for going above and beyond for the community, during the pandemic.

As part of the recognition, Fire by the Monon received $50,000 to help keep their doors open.

Fire by the Monon was selected for donating food to area hospitals fighting COVID-19.