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Omicron COVID variant adding more staffing shortages to Houston restaurants already struggling

The virus is affecting employees in all industries. But for many restaurant owners, it's adding to the existing staffing problem.

HOUSTON — The omicron variant is affecting employees in all industries, it's just so contagious. But for many restaurant owners, it's adding to the existing staffing problem they're already dealing with.

"Before the omicron variant hit, 78% of our Texas operators reported they didn’t have enough staff to meet current demands," said Kelsey Erickson Streufert with the Texas Restaurant Association. "When you add 'highly transmissible,' that is when you see restaurants stretched thin." 

Many restaurants are now dealing with employees who are calling in sick due to the new variant.

"Because of the contagiousness, it's really hard to get staffing up to par. A lot of the time those existing employees have to work double shifts or multiple shifts to make up for the difference in staffing," said Alfred Florest, Texas Restaurant Board Member with the Gringos Mexican Restaurant and Jimmy Changas.

But the biggest challenge is for some of those small "mom-and-pop" shops like the Harris County General Store Barbecue Company on Lawndale Street.

Sometimes, owner Daniel Hinojosa calls in friends or family to help for the day. His brother filled in Wednesday.

"He can cook and he is ready to go. He is trained and knows the fundamentals of what we need to be done," said Hinojosa.

Daniel says he would rather keep his employees at home if they’re feeling sick. 

Last year he was hospitalized with COVID and it was a life-changing experience. He takes it very seriously.

"I almost didn’t make it out of the hospital, but I am here so I'm taking all of our precautions," he said.

His priority now is keeping his restaurant clean, safe and ready for his customers, even if he has minimal staff.

"Even if it’s down to just one person, we are still going to make BBQ," said Hinojosa. 

These small restaurants are constantly evolving, doing what they can to survive this new normal they face every day. And they’re relying on their customers to not forget them.

As Barbecue Co. customer Wendy Clubb says, ""It is a rough time for a lot of businesses and you know it's important we provide support to our community."

The Harris County General Store Barbecue Company, Gringo's and Jimmy Changas is taking applications for available positions. 

  • Click here to learn more and apply to the Harris Co. Barbecue Company
  • Click here for more info on available positions for Gringo's Mexican Restaurant
  • Click here for positions with Jimmy Changa's.