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Businesses scale back amid worker shortages

Bakery curbs supermarket deliveries, brewery and restaurant trim hours

Eddie Melad slides a pan of hamburger bun dough onto a rack on the morning of July 14 at Home Maid Bakery, which announced last week that it would temporarily have to suspend deliveries to Maui’s supermarkets due to staff shortages. The bakery is among the many local and nationwide establishments cutting back on services due to a lack of workers. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photos

A worker shortage is to blame for customers not being able to find Home Maid Bakery’s Maui Crunch bread, pandesal rolls and other bakery goodies at grocery stores.

Since last week, the locally owned bakery has had to temporarily suspend its deliveries to Maui’s supermarkets with only three full-time drivers to make trips across the island.

“Not only because of the drivers, it’s also because every single department at the bakery, we have a shortage of workers,” Manager Amy Kozuki said Monday. “Because we have a shortage of workers, we have to cut down on the product.”

It’s a similar situation for Maui Brewing Co. Chief Executive Officer and founder Garrett Marrero, whose restaurants on Maui and Oahu as well as his brewery operations are also short-staffed.

“That’s our primary issue holding us back from any sort of economic recovery, and I think that’s statewide,” he said Tuesday.

Chris Garcia returns a pan to a rack while rolling dough balls into hotdog bun shapes for baking on July 14.

Previously open seven days a week, Maui Brewing Co. in Kahana recently had to scale back hours to only five days a week for lunch and dinner.

Maui Brewing’s Kihei site also has limited hours, but due to its mainly counter service, it has been “OK.”

“Back of the house has been tough, so we still have a limited menu compared to normal,” Marrero said.

His Waikiki and Kailua sites on Oahu are also not open seven days a week like they were before, and the Waikiki location, the only one of his restaurants to serve breakfast, is no longer doing so.

Both Kozuki and Marrero believed the shortages they and other businesses face are tied to the federal government’s unemployment benefit of an additional $300 for qualified weekly payments, which ends in September.

Home Maid Bakery General Manager Amy Kozuki straightens a display of signature bread products in the retail store on Lower Main Street in Wailuku on July 14.

“The challenge is across the board, including hotels, other restaurants, retail activities, us (as the Maui Chamber of Commerce has an open position) and so many more,” Maui Chamber of Commerce President Pamela Tumpap said via text on Monday. “It is also occurring across the U.S., so we are not unique.”

She said that the pandemic and the need for child care also plays a “big role” in the shortage of workers, as well as the “plus-up” unemployment benefits.

“We expect to see a change in September when the plus-up ends, but that’s a long way off for businesses and the employees who came back and are struggling to keep up with all the requirements to meet customers needs,” Tumpap said.

Last week the chamber launched a survey to take the pulse of its members’ staffing situations. Among the 21 businesses who had responded by Monday, six, mainly small businesses and nonprofits, had no openings, while 15 others reported a combined 105 openings that they are trying to fill.

Some businesses, including Zippy’s, are offering cash incentives for new hires, Tumpap noted. According to the local restaurant chain’s website, hires could earn up to $3,000 cash bonus for a manager position or up to $500 for other positions. A Zippy’s spokesperson could not be reached for comment.

Hawaiian Airlines has also gone the cash incentive route, offering a $2,000 sign-on bonus for most job openings on the Valley Isle back in May as it prepared for a busy summer season.

Marrero said he is also paying much higher wages and incentives to staff to come back, but some people still don’t want to return and have told Marrero to call them back in the fall.

The CEO said he doesn’t blame those who are taking the extra benefits and instead puts the onus on the government who incentivizes folks not to go back to work. He pointed out that other states are giving incentives to people who do return to the workforce.

Maui Brewing’s staffing shortage has not only impacted its restaurants but its brewery operations as well. Demand for products is almost double what it was before the pandemic, but with the lack of staff, Marrero said he is 30 to 40 percent behind on orders. He added that the supply chain with other businesses is also lagging.

Home Maid Bakery, meanwhile, did not lay off anyone during the pandemic, but some workers left and never returned, Kozuki said.

At its staffing peak a few years ago, the bakery had 80 workers, which declined to 60 in 2019 and 48 now, though Kozuki noted that not all are full time and some may come in for a couple hours here and there.

Kozuki said the bakery is trying to fill positions as best as it can and has tried to be flexible with workers’ schedules.

She receives lots of job inquiry calls, but people don’t show up to apply or for an interview, which makes her believe they are just trying to satisfy unemployment requirements by looking for a job. In June, the state labor department began requiring unemployment benefit recipients to document their attempts to search for work.

The bakery still services its hotel and restaurant accounts and mom and pop stores that may need the products for sandwiches or cannot get Home Maid baked goods anywhere else, Kozuki said.

She added that the decision was not about choosing the tourists’ dollar over the locals’ money, explaining that restaurant and hotel orders are basically just drop-offs, while grocery stores need more servicing, such as making sure the shelves are stocked, as some stores have up to 15 or so Home Maid products. Price differences for what the bakery gets in return from hotel accounts versus grocery stores do not differ much, she added.

Kozuki said she did not want store shelves to go empty if the bakery could not fulfill the quotas needed, noting it would make the stores look bad.

The bakery is evaluating daily what it can do to restart its grocery service. In the meantime, products can still be found at its bakery on Lower Main Street, Kozuki said.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

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