Celebrity chef David Burke working on scholarship program to fill restaurants

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Shortly after celebrity chef David Burke reopened his restaurants he faced a problem that's spanning the entire industry: a staffing shortage. 

In order to keep pace with the sudden rush of demand, the internationally-acclaimed chef resorted to nontraditional means in order to keep his restaurant, Red Horse by Davide Burke, in Rumson, N.J., going. 

Like Broadway, Burke said, "the show must go on." 

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However, it's no easy task.

"We're up against the government and we're up against the competition," Burke said. "But mostly we're up against the government paying people to stay home."

Shortly after celebrity chef David Burke reopened his restaurants he faced a problem that’s spanning the entire industry: a staffing shortage.  (David Burke Hospitality Management)

In particular, Burke was having trouble filling positions like busboys or dishwashers and even some sous chefs because they were making more money staying home, he said. 

"Believe it or not, you can't run a restaurant without a dishwasher," he added. 

So, he enlisted the help of his trusted groundskeeper and a cleaning lady who happily jumped on board to help out around the restaurant from bussing tables to doing dishes. 

At one point, his groundskeeper "was doing the work of three people…at about 90 hours," Burke said. 

On top of that, Burke said there has also been a lot of "poaching" occurring in the industry where "restaurants are stealing your employees." 

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"A lot of the cooks live with each other and know each other, you know, they work for these guys. If the word gets out, ‘Hey, this place is paying $35 an hour’…they'll jump ship," Burke said. 

Even still, he found ways to incentivize his workers. 

"We started paying a lot more money," he said. "We're paying 25% more for almost every position and giving over time." 

However, he also found another way to get people in the door. 

David Burke said there has also been a lot of “poaching” occurring in the industry where “restaurants are stealing your employees.”  (David Burke Hospitality Management)

The celebrity chef has been in talks with Brookdale Community College, located in Lincroft, N.J., to create a scholarship program for students to work with him. His plan, which is still being ironed out, is to essentially carry the financial burden of the students' courses in exchange for work. 

Not only does it help to staff his restaurants, but it also gives the students hands-on experience learning beside Burke. 

It's similar to a program he already has in Charlotte, N.C., with Johnson & Wales University. The David Burke and Johnson & Wales Fellowship Program works to train sous checks, cooks, maître d's and managers at the venues Burke owns or operates. 

"It's like a minor league team. We're going to build a team," Burke said. 

After they graduate from culinary school, they are given the opportunity to work at one of Burke's affiliate hospitality venues. 

If not, Burke promises to set them on a path for success. 

"I know every chef in America and anyone that's good, we'll make a phone call and we get them placed," he said. 

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