For one small restaurant operator in Columbus, Ohio, the labor shortage means returning to pre-pandemic service is 'unfathomable'


Wolf’s Ridge Brewing in Columbus, Ohio. Photo provided courtesy of the company.

The co-founder of Wolf’s Ridge Brewing in Columbus, Ohio, can’t find workers to fill open roles. To get back to 2019 levels, he’d need at least 10 new hires, but there’s a dearth of applicants. His case is just one of the many businesses facing a labor shortage in the US. See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The co-founder of Wolf’s Ridge Brewing in Columbus, Ohio, is tired.

More than a year ago, Bob Szuter laid off most of his 80-person staff, leaving just 15 core workers to continue operating the restaurant and brewery. He wasn’t sure if his business would survive, and he had two young girls at home.

The wholesale side, which once comprised just a quarter of the business, now kept the brewery going, along with carryout and delivery operations, as the restaurant dining room remained closed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Once businesses in Ohio were allowed to re-open last year, he had new challenge: operating under COVID-19 restrictions, like social distancing, capacity rules, and mask guidelines put forth by the state.

At first, customers were supportive, but as the pandemic has continued, they’ve become less enthusiastic — and more aggressive — about not wanting to wearing a mask to the bathroom or being unable to get a reservation because the restaurant has met its capacity limit.

His latest hurdle? Finding workers to fill open positions.

Businesses across the country have been in a scramble to hire workers as more Americans receive the COVID-19 vaccine, and states begin lifting restrictions on restaurants, stores and other venues. Fast-food chains, among other businesses, have said they’re in need of thousands of workers to fill open roles.

The unemployment rate remains elevated from pre-pandemic levels and millions of people are out of work, but still there’s a shortage of applicants. That’s in part due to unemployment benefits creating a disincentive to