Lynbrook Chamber of Commerce Vice President Nazia DeFrank said she was at Lynbrook Eats, on Merrick Road, for a meeting last month when she noticed owner Timmy Anagnostos, 75, moving quickly from table to table to serve customers amid a staff shortage.
“When he walked over with plates, his hands were shaking so bad that some food was falling off the plates,” DeFrank recalled. “I took the plates and he started tearing up, saying he had no help, and no one wants to work. I really couldn’t bear the thought of this man crying. It broke my heart.”
DeFrank, who is the chief executive officer of the Lynbrook-based Gourmet Ghee Company, which produces butter that is made by straining the fat and dairy out of it, decided to volunteer as a waitress at the eatery to help Anagnostos. She said she worked as a waitress when she was in her 20s and was happy to volunteer to help at Lynbrook Eats.
She said she has noticed wait times increasing at local eateries owing to a lack of staff, which she attributed to the coronavirus pandemic, as restaurant employees were among those who have received extra unemployment benefits. Anagnostos was in Greece at press time, and the business did not respond to a request for comment.
On the night DeFrank worked, her sons, Adam, Steven and Deen, visited the restaurant. along with Deputy Mayor Michael Hawxhurst and his family and former Lynbrook Police Chief Joseph Neve.
Lynbrook Eats is one of many businesses in the area that have had to deal with staff shortages. Brian Fern, the owner of Pearsall’s Station, on Sunrise Highway, said he believed there were three reasons why his business has been unable to hire help. He said he believed people weren’t motivated to work because they make more on unemployment; that some staff members who could not work during the pandemic found other jobs when businesses were forced to switch to takeout-only for three months; and that many people were initially scared to return to work amid the uncertainty brought on by the pandemic.
“We’re running with a short pool,” Fern said. “If someone wants a day off or someone isn’t feeling well, it’s hard for us to get people. So sometimes I put on a waiter or server hat just because we need to get it done.”
Fern said he had about 20 employees before the pandemic, but has lost several staff members. He added that the restaurant used to be open seven days a week, but because of the lack of wait staff, it is now closed on Mondays. He also noted that summer is typically a slower season for him, so the staff shortage has not affected him as badly as it would in the cold months, but he hopes to find a way to get fully staffed by fall and winter.
Fern added that he was unsure if a vaccine mandate for restaurant workers would be something he supports.
“It’s a slippery slope,” he said. “I think people need to do what they’re comfortable doing, but I don’t think people should be held prisoner for the people who don’t want to. I’m never a flu vaccine guy. I [received the Covid-19 vaccine] because I’m the face of this business, and I thought it was important to lead by example.”
Joel Juarez, the general manager at Il Luogo, at 159 Sunrise Highway, said the business has felt the impact of a staff shortage over the past three months and has tried to generate more help by posting listings on Indeed.com and other job sites. He said most people have not shown an interest in working in the restaurant business or have asked for too much money, and in turn, the business cannot serve as many customers as it used to.
“For dinners we used to take over 100 reservations,” he said, “and we have to keep that down now because we can’t handle that many people because we are short-staffed and can’t handle the balance.”
DeFrank said she hoped to work with the Chamber of Commerce to continue to help businesses in town, and that her advice for those struggling to staff their eateries was to find ways to get creative.
“The businesses will have to come to a point where they will have to reinvent themselves, not the wheel,” she said. “They will have to find ways to attract workers that will stay long-term and help them grow.”