Ag Commissioner: Lack of restaurant workers, no re-opening date hurts businesses

Published: Apr. 21, 2021 at 6:39 PM EDT
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BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (WBKO) - Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner, Dr. Ryan Quarles hosted a roundtable Wednesday morning with Bowling Green restaurant owners and farmers to address challenges they faced during the pandemic.

Quarles said that roughly 110,000 restaurants nationwide have closed their doors for good over the past year.

“We’re actually talking about family businesses, a lot of whom have run through their capital reserves. And in some cases, life savings just to try to struggle and stay open,” he said.

One of the topics addressed Wednesday between the Commissioner and community members was the lack of people applying for service industry jobs.

“There may be a motivation as to why people may not want to come back, particularly with some of the benefits that some folks are receiving right now,” said Quarles.

During the roundtable, Quarles also called for the need for a re-opening date for Kentucky over a vaccination rate as the governor currently has in place.

“We’re hearing from our restaurants that we need to have a reopening date like California has already announced in June. That way we can properly prepare for that,” he said. “I think that if you run an agribusiness or running a restaurant, that sometimes it takes weeks, if not a month to prepare properly to reopen. You want to make sure that that reopening experience is a positive one for patrons.”

Nathan Howell of Need More Acres Farm told Quarles they were not prepared for the demand that was put upon them in 2020 and questioned what Kentucky would do in regards to small-scale farms in the future.

“It’s easier to have a conversation with a distributor that may have connections with say 100 retail locations versus a singular farmers market,” said Quarles. “And so we actually have a Buy Local program that has a financial incentive through the distributor. We’re trying to encourage Kentuckians to reward your tastebuds by buying local.”

One local farmer noted that his pork business boomed this past year, but the challenge came with the lack of USDA processing facilities.

“One discussion we’ve had for years now is getting a large-scale meat processing plant in Kentucky,” expressed Quarles. “The biggest challenge isn’t finding a location, or sourcing the cattle, which we know we can do or other livestock-- it’s finding enough personnel that can run the plant and run it efficiently

Quarles added that this was also an issue pre-COVID.

Despite lacking supplies such as carryout boxes and utensils during the pandemic, Pie Queen of BG owner said she’d like to be better connected to farmers they might now know yet throughout the state.

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