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Carius: Finding enough employees a challenge for Bloomington-Normal restaurants as indoor dining returns
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Carius: Finding enough employees a challenge for Bloomington-Normal restaurants as indoor dining returns

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As in-house dining returns to Bloomington-Normal, restaurant owners are telling me they are having difficulty finding enough additional employees, especially those with previous restaurant experience.

As would be expected, some furloughed restaurant employees found non-restaurant jobs locally and decided not to return to restaurants. Others may be working in restaurants in areas of Illinois where the in-house dining ban was not strictly enforced or possibly even ignored. Some have taken jobs out of state, where indoor dining was always an option.

One restaurant owner told me that on a recent weekend, he was the Friday and Saturday night dishwasher.

I did not expect finding enough restaurant employees, especially those with previous restaurant experience in middle management and as cooks, would be a concern.

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B-N does it again: The Bloomington Pokeworks franchisee smiled when he told me the first weekend of sales was the second highest in company franchise history. Pokeworks — Poke Bowl Restaurant opened in November in the Crafted Complex at 1101 Airport Road. Crafted: Coffee Brews opened in the complex in December.

From Larry’s notebook:

  • Egg House Café, a one-menu breakfast and lunch restaurant, will open in March in the former Rosati’s Pizza location in Constitution Trail Center, just off of Raab Road. Vlora Amiti and her husband Nick are owners/operators.  Vlora’s father, Ozzie Ibishi, owns Tony’s Diner in Bloomington.  She received her MBA from Aurora University in December and thought this would be a great opportunity for her to have her own restaurant.
  • Aroma Indian Restaurant on Eldorado Road now has a full-service bar. Owner Siva Busa said his diners have been requesting alcoholic beverages so, during the last in-house dining shutdown, he applied for and was granted a liquor license. The new bar is along the east wall of the dining room.
  • Kelly’s on 66 in Lexington owner Kelly Tobin has sold the restaurant to the former owner of the Pontiac Family Kitchen. Kelly and his wife Dawn opened the restaurant in 2017 after purchasing the long-vacant Mesa Café/The Filling Station. They gutted it and opened a very nice Route 66-themed restaurant. The new owner, Vait Jaoski, will add breakfast and lunch and keep Kelly’s pizza and many of his menu items.
  • Old Bank Restaurant & Bar in LeRoy has been permanently closed by the Epiphany Farms Hospitality Group. EFHG President Ken Myszka told me they closed the restaurant due to the challenges of operating restaurants this past year and wanted to focus more on their Bloomington restaurants, including opening Harmony Korean BBQ.
  • The Hornet’s Nest family restaurant in Heyworth has opened in the former Corona’s Mexican Grill by the family that owns the Country-Aire restaurant up the road in Atlanta.  The building was essentially gutted during the $300,000 remodeling. An addition to the west side of the building now has the restrooms, a gaming room and an extension of the kitchen for making pies.

Family spokesperson Nick Bekteshi said his father had owned/operated the Heyworth Family Restaurant in this location for 20 years.

Larry’s menu tip of the month: The house-made grass-fed beef chili at Green Top Grocery.

Carius, of Bloomington, is a former food program and plan review supervisor for the McLean County Health Department. His Facebook blog, Bloomington-Normal Restaurant Scene, has 28,000 followers.

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