New Springfield eateries are entering a workforce-depleted market; what do they do?

Published: Mar. 30, 2023 at 6:59 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - Springfield is where people love eating out.

And if you’re hungry, there’s no shortage of places to go.

But if you’ve eaten at restaurants or gone through a drive-thru regularly, you’ve probably noticed a shortage of enough employees to run those places properly.

Yet the new eateries just keep on coming.

There are 11,738 restaurants in Missouri, accounting for nine percent of the state’s workforce, pumping $14.2 billion into the economy annually.

In downtown Springfield is a new restaurant called Cabos Bonitos Grill and Cantina that had been open only four days when we visited it on Thursday. It’s located in the same space that previously housed another restaurant now closed (Maria’s Mexican Restaurant) and two doors down from another shuttered eatery (Riad).

Yet James Daniel and his business partner are excited about the opportunity to open their first-ever restaurant during supply chain problems and a dwindling workforce.

“Yeah, it was kind of scary at first,” Daniel said. “But I had a lot of people in my background who have worked for me in the past at different companies, and they came out with us to get it started.”

Daniel said all 27 of his staff positions are currently filled, and when asked why he was able to convince his past employees to follow him to his new endeavor.

“I did offer them a little higher pay than what I had planned to,” he answered. “I’ve actually had more supply chain problems than workforce headaches so far. Today I had to go to the grocery store to grab some peppers because our suppliers couldn’t get them.”

Meanwhile, in south Springfield Du’Sean Howard opened the Jamaican Patty Company in 2018. The Caribbean food and market survived the pandemic and has used a unique recruiting tool to get a workforce signed up.

The food.

“It was very challenging,” Howard said of surviving the downturn in business during the pandemic. “But we got lucky by having customers who actually want to work for us.”

Howard plans to add another location downtown and says he’s learned that flexibility with a business model is essential.

“In the five years we’ve been open, that’s really how we survived COVID,” he explained. “By learning how to work with less employees and still keep the business functioning. It’s being more productive with less. A lot of restaurant owners I’ve talked with are really having a hard time because of how their business models are set up. If you have to run things a certain way, you may not be able to do that with less employees. And once that structure is in place, you’re depending on having a certain number of employees all the time. That can be an issue, especially with the pandemic and everything else that’s going on right now with people wanting to do things on their own.”

A real estate agent, Howard was asked about his thoughts on getting people interested in re-entering the workforce.

“I don’t have all the answers, but I think one solution is to make sure it’s a relationship business,” he said. “That’s the way it is in real estate. It’s about building relationships. It’s the same way with the restaurant business. People like it when they get to know who the owners are and make that personal connection. There are businesses out there that are just cut and dry with a ‘this is how it is’ approach. We need to change that model. You have to create a friendlier environment and make it more cool and fun for people to want to work for you. And, of course, you have to pay them what they’re worth. That’s important, and so is welcoming them into the culture of your business.”

When asked which has been more difficult, his real estate career or restaurant ownership?

“The realty business has been tougher,” he replied. “With the whole economy and interest rates going up, it makes it a lot harder because there are less first-time home buyers on the market right now. I think it will get better, though. I don’t think it’s going to get worse. In the restaurant business, everybody’s got to eat, but everybody’s picky right now because they’re watching their pennies. So we’re trying to keep our prices as low as we can to attract more people and keep us around for a while.”

To report a correction or typo, please email