Gulfport's newest downtown eatery is starving for more workers. Salute stopped serving lunch this week because its owners couldn't find enough help to stay open all day.
At 1:00 Thursday afternoon, Salute's kitchen staff was busy making fresh pasta. Because of one unexpected hiccup, you have to wait until dinner to taste it.
"Lack of staff. Lack of trainable staff," owner Denis Trochesset lamented.
When his restaurant opened in June, it featured a lunch menu. And his dining room was often near capacity.
"It was doing very well, it truly was," said Trochesset.
But when Salute managers realized they didn't have enough cooks to serve lunch and dinner, they changed their operating hours. On too many occasions to count this week, Trochesset had to stop customers at the door and say, "Sorry ladies, we're closed for lunch. Staffing problems."
Why change the restaurant's hours of operation?
"We were working the same people we have working lunch shift, dinner shift. And they were going into the overtime at such an alarming rate, it was very scary," Trochesset said.
A quick check with the Win Job Center in Gulfport determined Salute's hiring issues were a universal problem across the coast. According to the manager on duty, the south Mississippi job market is so good right now, service industry positions are hard to fill. He pointed out that salaries at many restaurants are often low. And the domino effect of that is that many cooks and waiters can't afford post Katrina housing costs.
Trochesset has heard that complaint a lot. To help pay bills, he tried to offer competitive salaries, especially for his back of the house cooking crew. With other top notch restaurants recently opening, Trochesset said finding trained chefs looking for work was hard.
"My wonderful guys in the back, they were working 15 hour days. Do the math on that. You're going to simply wear someone out from shear exhaustion from the amount of hours," he felt.
So for now, Denis Trochesset must turn away business.
"Sorry folks. We're closed for lunch right now. We'll be opening up lunch again very soon," he told a couple who showed up at 1:30 hoping to enjoy a mid afternoon Italian meal.
Trochesset hopes that by the end of the year, his cooks will be serving pasta for lunch again.