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Knoxville restaurant owner joins other businesses in closing twice a week from worker shortage

Bettina Hamblin, the owner of Farmacy Knox, closed her doors on Mondays and Tuesdays due to a shortage of cooks and dishwashers in her kitchen.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The COVID-19 pandemic made many go home and stay home, causing staffing issues in many local restaurants.

Bettina Hamblin, the owner of Farmacy Knox, is taking the brunt of this worker shortage, closing her restaurant every Monday and Tuesday in August.

“We've had to close our doors two days a week, just because we don't have enough staff to work,” Hamblin said. Line cooks, to dishwashers to expeditors, food runners - anything that takes place back there is the challenge right now.”

The restaurant owner said applicants are asking for more than what she can pay.

“People are demanding a lot higher of a wage than what we were paying a year ago,” she added. When people are coming in with experience interviewing for these positions, they want to start at $20 an hour.”

Hamblin said $20 an hour is not something she can pay her personnel given her tight profit margin of 10%.

The other 90% of Farmacy’s earnings are equally distributed between food, overhead, and labor costs.

“If you're off two and a half to 5%, in any of those areas, you immediately go into the negative,” the owner said.

According to Rob Mortensen, CEO/President of the Tennessee Hospitality and Tourism Association, about 70,000 Tennesseans left the hospitality industry throughout the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020 and did not come back.

This adds to the grand total of 260,000 vacant staff positions at hotels and restaurants across the state.

Hamblin will remain closed on Monday and Tuesday until she can find more back-of-house workers to meet customer demand.

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