Colorado Restaurants Have Trouble Recruiting Help Because of Legal Marijuana

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The state has too many jobs to fill.

Ever since the legal cannabis market opened up tens of thousands of new jobs in Colorado, restaurateurs all across the state have found it increasingly more difficult to recruit staff. It seems that more people would now prefer to earn a living working in weed rather than in a kitchen, a shakeup that has put the state’s restaurant labor market at “Defcon 5,” reports Bloomberg.

In Denver, which was selected last year by U.S. News & World Report as one of the best places to live in the nation, the restaurant scene has been exploding over the last two years with new fine dining experiences, especially in the downtown area. This growth, of course, has created an elevated demand for culinary professionals and kitchen support staff.

But, right around the same time the city was going through this culinary transformation, the retail cannabis market was launched, creating a wave of high paying job opportunities in grow facilities and retail dispensaries throughout the state. This unique situation has caused many young workers to shuck their aprons for the business of bud.

“Our work force is being drained by the pot industry,” said Bryan Dayton, co-owner of three popular restaurants in Denver and Boulder. “There’s a very small work pool as it is. Enter the weed business, which pays $22 an hour with full benefits. You can come work in a kitchen for us for eight hours a day, in a hot kitchen. It’s a stressful life. Or you can go sort weed in a climate-controlled greenhouse. It’s a pretty obvious choice.”

Other restaurant owners agreed, adding that the cannabis industry is even taking possession of some of its key professionals.

“Cooks take trimming jobs and make $20 an hour, but it’s not just that. Pastry chefs are in high demand in the pot world,” said Jennifer Jasinski, owner of Stoic and Genuine and Rioja. “Laced candies and gummy bears are sought-after treats when they are made well, so pastry chefs and cooks can make them for three to four times the money a restaurant can pay. All this just exacerbates an already tight work force in Denver.”

Although the solution may seem as easy as offering restaurant workers higher wages, owners say it is “impossible” for them to compete with legal weed due to their extremely small profit margins.

“If you make 10 percent profit in the restaurant business, you are in the hall of fame as a great operator,” Stuckey said.

Some restaurant owners say they have also experienced between a 2-4 percent decrease in overall alcohol sales since the legalization of marijuana, according to Bloomberg.

Still, while complaining about hardships in the realm of human resources, some say they have seen “more hungry,” “more sophisticated” customers as a result of marijuana legalization.

Now, if they could only hire enough people to help feed them.

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