Closing for vacation is latest pandemic-induced change for restaurants

It's becoming more common for metro Atlanta restaurants to close so the owners and staff can have vacation time.
Caption
It's becoming more common for metro Atlanta restaurants to close so the owners and staff can have vacation time.

Even prior to a global pandemic and resulting staff shortage, working in the food service sector could be brutal. Paid vacation is not the industry standard, especially at smaller restaurants where a slight change to normal operations can wreak havoc. If just one person takes time off for health reasons, vacation or self-care, it can throw off a delicate balance, even when employees are cross-trained to manage different stations.

This summer, some restaurateurs tried something different. They closed down to give the entire staff a break.

Chef-owner Deborah VanTrece shut Twisted Soul Cookhouse and Pours from June 28-July 6, extending a usual holiday break and paying her staff in full. “It would be fair to say that all of us needed a break,” she said. “The past year and a half has been one of the toughest times of our lives. Dealing with all of the challenges brought on by the pandemic has made restaurant operations and our collective personal lives mentally and physically draining.”

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Deborah VanTrece, owner and chef of Twisted Soul Cookhouse and Pours, recently closed her restaurant for more than a week to give her and her staff an extended holiday break. “It would be fair to say that all of us needed a break,” she said. “The past year and a half has been one of the toughest times of our lives." (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)
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Deborah VanTrece, owner and chef of Twisted Soul Cookhouse and Pours, recently closed her restaurant for more than a week to give her and her staff an extended holiday break. “It would be fair to say that all of us needed a break,” she said. “The past year and a half has been one of the toughest times of our lives." (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

“We’ve been hobbling through the last 18 months,” said Rich Chey of HomeGrown Restaurant Concepts, which operates Doc Chey’s, Dragon Bowl and Osteria 832. “All restaurants are probably 20% understaffed,” he noted. “When you don’t have a large footprint, losing one person means running short-staffed and running overtime,” he said. Rather than “fighting through” being understaffed the entire summer, he decided to temporarily turn the lights off from June 29-July 6.

“Everyone is short-staffed and working extra hard right now,” said BoccaLupo chef-owner Bruce Logue, who temporarily locked doors June 26-July 6. “We run it pretty hard here with long days (10-12 hours), five days a week. I want everyone to be able to have a break at one time,” he said, noting that with such a small team, there is no one to fill those shoes if one or two employees take off.

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With a small staff, BoccaLupo chef-owner Bruce Logue thought it was best to close his restaurant June 26-July 6 so everybody could have a break. (Tyson Horne / tyson.horne@ajc.com)
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With a small staff, BoccaLupo chef-owner Bruce Logue thought it was best to close his restaurant June 26-July 6 so everybody could have a break. (Tyson Horne / tyson.horne@ajc.com)

Credit: Tyson Horne

Credit: Tyson Horne

“It’s the only way to give everyone the time they need and deserve,” said Nick Leahy of Nick’s Westside. “They’ve rolled with everything — pandemic, staffing issues, supply chain issues — week in and week out and kept moving forward.” What they all needed, Leahy included, was to breathe, reset, recharge and unplug, which they did when Nick’s closed for 10 days from late June through early July.

Despite opening their first brick-and-mortar in early June, husband-and-wife Malik Rhasaan and Detric Fox-Quinlan closed their bodega-inspired Che Butter Jonez in southwest Atlanta for a few days in mid-July. “You’ve got to take time to love on yourself,” said Fox-Quinlan, speaking on the phone while she and Rhasaan were headed to their vacation destination.

Chef Malik Rhasaan and his wife, Detric Fox-Quinlan, who own Che Butter Jonez, knew closing for a few days was the only way to enjoy some time off. (Mia Yakel for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
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Chef Malik Rhasaan and his wife, Detric Fox-Quinlan, who own Che Butter Jonez, knew closing for a few days was the only way to enjoy some time off. (Mia Yakel for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Mia Yakel

Credit: Mia Yakel

Her husband pointed out the stress that operators often face when they take vacation while keeping restaurant doors open. “We’ve taken off before, but what happens is, it’s business all the time, and you are always thinking of it,” Rhasaan said. “I didn’t care what it costs at this point, we need it.”

The move toward both efficiency and a more compassionate workplace might be here to stay as employers recognize that a recharge creates a happier team member — even if it comes with a financial cost.

“We gave up a little revenue, but it ended up being a good trade-off,” said Chey, whose staff responded positively to the break. “Everyone came back and appeared to be in a good mood and well-rested.”

Chey considers this trend as one triggered by the labor shortage but thinks vacation closures will become a regular part of his operations.

Leahy concurred. “It will still be the right thing to do next year,” he said. In an Instagram post announcing the closure, he cited family and community as part of his company’s core values. “Work-life balance is really important — time with family, time with friends, time for personal life. I think you get a better version of people when you give people time to have all those things,” he said.

VanTrece, likewise, thinks restaurant breaks are here to stay. “Restaurateurs have realized that in order to keep staff healthy and productive, there needs to be a time where they can enjoy a sustained break. If anything, the pandemic has taught us that we are humans, not machines.”

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