SCOTTSDALE, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) - With things finally starting to look up for Arizona restaurants after a year of COVID-19 restrictions, some are now facing a new challenge: finding workers.
"It's unreal," said Fred Morgan, the co-owner of Fired Pie, a 21-store chain of fast-casual pizza restaurants.
Morgan was chopping veggies and making dressing in the kitchen of their Northsight Center restaurant Wednesday, helping prep food along with his normal duties overseeing his restaurants.
"I'm out here! I'm actually pulling shifts every day," Morgan said.
His co-owner and family members have been helping staff the restaurants as well. All because they can't find enough employees.
"We, right now, need at least 60 employees, if not more. And we just can't get 'em," Morgan said.
Fired Pie had to temporarily close of their stores in Downtown Phoenix during the pandemic. And just when it seemed they could reopen that location, and business in their other restaurants would be rebounding, workers couldn't be found.
"We are doing everything we can to keep the doors open. You know, I looked on paper, does it make sense to go to limited hours? Do we close a store at this point? Pull some employees from another restaurant? I mean, it really has gotten that serious," Morgan said.
According to the president of the Arizona Restaurant Association, the worker shortage came unexpectedly, but is now one of the biggest issues facing restaurants in the state.
"I will tell you, in my many years of being in this industry, this has been the most difficult labor crunch I have seen," said Steve Chucri, Arizona Restaurant Association President.
Chucri says a number of factors could be to blame for the worker shortage, including employees leaving the industry because of the pandemic.
"A lot of our former employees said, 'We don't know if we want to face that problem again. That same uncertainty.'"
Stimulus checks and unemployment could also be making furloughed workers more picky.
"We've seen folks that are simply getting these checks, and say, 'Hey, we might want to spend more time home and not have to work.'"
And employers like Morgan, who says wages at Fired Pie start around $15 an hour and has manager roles available, hiring help to run his restaurants remains a puzzling problem.
"Really [its] the most difficult thing we're trying to do right now."