Why these workers at a popular Anchorage restaurant quit a job they loved


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The COVID-19 pandemic threw a record number of people out of the workforce last year. Today, restrictions have been lifted and businesses have reopened, but many workers have never returned to their old jobs.

That was true at the Bear Tooth Theaterpub and Cafe in Anchorage, a Spenard institution long known for its movies, beers, and casual fare, and the adjoining bar and restaurant, the Bear Tooth Grill.

Some of the restaurant’s longtime core group of staff left last year, despite what they described as great advice and perks that they say are rare in the industry.

The former workers say their hours and tips plummeted after several rounds of indoor restaurant closings as the city tried to contain the virus. The ever-present risk of future closings has added to the stress and uncertainty, they say.

So they decided to try something new and changed jobs.

The stories of four Bear Tooth employees help explain one aspect of the country’s labor shortage, a phenomenon that is part of the “Great Reassessment”.

“The great reassessment” refers to a general theme that the post-pandemic economy will not look like it was before the pandemic, said Bernard Baumohl of the Economic Outlook Group, a New Jersey economic forecasting company.

Employers are adjusting their operations, for example by allowing more staff to work remotely, he said. But also, many people have turned to new areas, often in search of long-term stability.

“There was a lot of stress, and that was the kind of stress where people were like, ‘I’m not going to let this happen again, I’m going to pursue a different career,’ he said.

[‘Burnout city’: The labor shortage has dragged on, and Alaska workers and business owners are exhausted]

Workers pursuing new careers are one of the contributing factors to the nationwide labor shortage, he said – others include lack of child care, worries regarding the capture of COVID-19 and additional unemployment benefits.

Amara Liggett, acting general manager of Bear Tooth and an 18-year-old employee, said the restaurant was used to some turnover. She noted that many longtime employees are still around, playing a key role as sales and tips rebounded this summer.

Restaurant jobs are often stepping stones for young workers pursuing college or other careers, she said.

But the pandemic has contributed to revenue, she said.

Some people left over a relatively short period of time, and it had an impact, she said. Their absence is felt as the restaurant, around 30 fewer workers than the 230 people it employed before the pandemic, attempts to train and replenish its workforce.

“It definitely made it more difficult,” she said. “You have fewer people to explain how we were doing this, where this thing happened. But we are opening a new path where we need to do it, and we realize that everything will be fine. “

The losses were emotional, but the restaurant still supports its workers pursuing different careers, Liggett said.

“We want people to live their best lives,” she said. “We always tell people that you are still in the family even if you no longer work here.”

STEPHANIE JOHNSON

For Stephanie Johnson, the uncertainty of the pandemic helped crystallize thoughts that had been swirling in her head for a while.

She started at Bear Tooth two decades ago as a waitress and eventually became General Manager. It meant coordinating a small army of employees in two restaurants, three kitchens, a bar and a movie theater.

It was demanding. But she “really loved” the work, her colleagues and problem solving, she said.

The pandemic has brought challenges that are increasingly difficult to control. When is the next closing? Who could replace the quarantined employees? How would she find and train new workers as experienced workers leave her?

This spring she said she had come to a “crossroads of life”. With so much out of her control, and after doing the same job for so long, she felt it was time for a change.

She wanted to spend more time with her family and more time in the Anchorage business she co-owns, Dos Manos Gallery.

[Child-care workers are quitting rapidly, a red flag for the economy]

In June, she left the Dent d’ours. She started a consulting company for the hospitality industry focused on business development, leadership training and conflict resolution.

Johnson was in Colorado in mid-September, visiting his sister’s family and newborn niece. She enjoys setting her own schedule and pursuing the work that fascinates her.

“This all sounds like a positive change to me,” she said.

CHASITY HUDDLESTON

Chasity Huddleston had worked in the restaurant industry for 24 years, the last dozen of which were at Bear Tooth, primarily as a bartender.

When indoor dining closed last year and events and movies were canceled, tips went from hundreds of dollars per night to around $ 25, she said.

The restaurant was “amazing” and management worked hard to keep the employees on staff, she said. They continued to provide health care benefits, but there was less work to be done, she said. After six months of reduced income, she was burning her savings.

Thinking of her 5-year-old son, Leighton Rathbun, she decided to cash in the 401 (k) retirement fund that Bear Tooth contributes to and use the money to earn her real estate license, she said.

To withdraw the money, she had to leave Bear Tooth, she said. She left in August 2020. That month, the city closed the restaurants inside for the second time. At the time, no one knew when business would return to pre-pandemic levels, she said.

“I loved my job there, but when COVID hit I couldn’t make any money like I used to,” she said. “I had no choice but to seek financial stability in another way. “

She got her real estate license last fall. She is now a real estate agent with RE / MAX Dynamic Properties in Anchorage, she said.

“I love finding families their first home or a bigger home,” she said last week, while putting together an offer on a home for a couple.

“And you build relationships in real estate that can last for years,” as families grow too big for houses, she said.

[Anchorage’s economy is recovering from the pandemic, but jobs won’t bounce back for another three years, forecast says]

The pay is better in real estate and the flexibility is nice, she said. More late nights means she kisses Leighton to say goodnight more often.

“I’m a mom who wants to participate in her son’s education, like his soccer and swimming lessons,” she said. “So now I can work around the activities I have for my family.”

ALEX EDE

Alex Ede had worked at Bear Tooth for over a decade, as a manager, main waiter and bartender. It was a lot of money and perks, and he liked having three days off every week.

But when the pandemic hit and its hours were cut, the money wasn’t coming in the way it used to. He was okay with the lower pay for several months. It was a shared sacrifice that kept most of his friends employed.

“I dug this because everyone worked hard together and it made for a good work experience,” said Ede, also a part-time DJ called Alex the Lion. “It was like ‘OK, we make it work, we stay afloat.’ But later on, I wasn’t earning that much and it was taking its toll.

So Ede stepped up his efforts to find a job using the environmental science degree he had obtained a few years earlier.

At the end of last year, he left Bear Tooth to work in the state. He is now a natural resources technician at the Ministry of Natural Resources.

He misses his old job and thinks about it daily, he said.

“It’s hard for me to go there because I’m sentimental about it,” he said.

[It’s not a ‘labor shortage.’ It’s a massive reassessment of work in America.]

He said anyone who has held a job for many years is considering other opportunities. The pandemic has made people think more seriously about other careers, he said.

“My thoughts and emotions led me to the fact that I was looking for something else,” he said. “The pandemic started this for me. “

JEN KITCHEN

Jen Cook has been Bear Tooth’s warehouse coordinator for the past three years, managing purchasing, inventory and logistics.

The owners and managers of the restaurant were amazing, she said. But the decline in activity due to the pandemic had forced the restaurant to reduce its hours.

Last October, as cases of COVID-19 increased, rumors circulated of another round of city-wide restrictions.

Cook had planned to start looking for a job later, after completing his bachelor’s degree in logistics. But the possibility of further cuts to his schedule has accelerated this plan.

“You have to watch your own wallet,” she said.

When an entry-level position popped up at a logistics company in Anchorage, she bit.

Work pays a little less than Bear Tooth, but the health plan now covers both her and her husband. Bear Tooth’s healthcare plan, which is unusual in the restaurant industry, only covered itself, she said.

The new job offers peace of mind after a tumultuous year.

“It was a real relief for everyone because when (COVID) first happened it was like ‘Would I even have a job?’” She said. declared. “And it’s a struggle for any family to lose an income.”

She is happy that her departure has opened up opportunities for other workers during a difficult time.

“It meant that an additional 20 to 30 hours could be used to improve someone else’s life a little bit,” she said. “Bear tooth is a family. At a lot of other jobs, it’s just something they say. But with Bear Tooth, it’s really like that.

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About Wanda Reilly

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