CA service workers seek jobs out of state as COVID-19 restrictions continue to impact food industry

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- It's been more than three weeks since outdoor dining closed in most of the Bay Area, a major blow to restaurants and bars in what would be one of the busiest times of the year.

As restaurant and bar owners struggle to pay rent and other overheads with minimal income, service workers have had it the hardest, argues Tim Nugent, owner of Shakewell in Oakland.

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"That was probably the most heartbreaking thing," said Nugent about letting go of more than a dozen staff members at the beginning of the pandemic.

He was able to hire some of them back and retain them, even with to-go only orders.

But the uncertainty of the industry has started to have other noticeable impacts.

One of his employees decided to move back home to Thailand, rather than try to stick it out in the Bay Area.

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"I had this great host, she was just hoot and holler, as just happy as could be, but just couldn't make it," said Nugent.

The mix of unemployment benefits, savings accounts and help from friends and family can only go so far, said bartender Danny Baker.

"Everything that I saved, my cushion per se, it's gone," he said.

Formerly employed at a bar in San Francisco, he said he was able to briefly go back to work when indoor dining was allowed.

He says some of his former colleagues have already moved out of California for work in states where restaurants are open. With unemployment benefits barely enough to cover rent, he says he is starting to look elsewhere as well.

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"I know they put out some good unemployment initially, but it's not all there now. And we know how it is to live in the Bay Area," commented Nugent.

As the stay-at-home order is increased for Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley, the return of the restaurant industry still seems uncertain.

The Bay Area region is still set to come out of the stay-at-home order on Jan. 8, though that could change if there is a Christmas-related surge.

When in-person dining does return, Nugent worries there may be a shortage of workers.

"I feel like we will have lost a lot of the industry folks when we come back and are alive. I think it will be tough to find the help for it," he said.

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