Restaurant owner addresses hiring in a pandemic

By: Alex Szwarc | Macomb Township Chronicle | Published November 19, 2020

 At Rocky’s Ristorante in Macomb Township, Owner  Frank Djokovic said pre-pandemic, 32 people were on staff. That number has now dwindled to five. Djokovic is seen here in March.

At Rocky’s Ristorante in Macomb Township, Owner Frank Djokovic said pre-pandemic, 32 people were on staff. That number has now dwindled to five. Djokovic is seen here in March.

Photo by Deb Jacques

 Mahero Jawad said the family business didn’t have much luck hiring early on in the pandemic, with it becoming more difficult  to attract workers when unemployment benefits were offered.

Mahero Jawad said the family business didn’t have much luck hiring early on in the pandemic, with it becoming more difficult to attract workers when unemployment benefits were offered.

Photo by Alex Szwarc

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MACOMB TOWNSHIP — The COVID-19 pandemic has taken its toll on small businesses, including how they handle hiring employees.

Whether it’s more folks staying home to be with their children learning remotely or altogether leaving their job for other industries.  

Speaking after new restrictions were announced for restaurants Nov. 15, Rocky’s Ristorante Owner and chef Frank Djokovic said life as an employer has been very difficult.

“I made the decision to close on Mondays, due to not having help,” he said. “It wasn’t due so much to lack of business. There is a lack of staff.”

Rocky’s is located in Macomb Township at the southeast corner of 23 Mile and Romeo Plank roads. Djokovic has done business in the township for five years and resides in neighboring Washington Township.

When the pandemic hit Michigan in March, Djokovic employed 32 workers. That number has dwindled to five.

“In the beginning, we had a small amount of business and couldn’t bring them back,” he said. “Part of it was that a lot of people needed a paycheck and went into other industries. A big majority of my staff went to other jobs because they didn’t know the security of restaurants.”   

Djokovic said prior to the three-week shutdown beginning Nov. 18, he wanted to hire four servers, two cooks and a couple hostesses.

When asked how he attracts workers in a pandemic, Djokovic said he offers the ability for employees to work when they want to.

“And we try to give them a little better pay,” he said.

Since Rocky’s reopened in mid-June, only three people have been hired.

“Prior to COVID, we used to hire people every other week. The turnaround in the restaurant business is very high,” he said.

Djokovic pre-pandemic would run now-hiring advertisements online, receiving between 20 and 50 applications.

“Now I’ll run an ad and be lucky to get two applications and not even get a response to schedule them,” he said.

Djokovic said Rocky’s received a Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP loan, for about $18,000.

“It may have covered 3% of what I owed,” he said.

During the temporary in-person dining shutdown, carryout and curbside service will be available at Rocky’s.

Looking at another industry, Mahero Jawad, of Shelby Township, is a co-owner and supervisor at PitStop.

The Jawad family owns 17 PitStop convenience stores inside Macomb Township Mobil gas stations. About four employees work at each store.

As an employer, Jawad said it’s been a fluid situation, operating amid a pandemic.

“You take it day-by-day and there is so much coming at you,” he said. “The first thing that comes to mind is it’s a personal thing because everyone works with you, and it’s family.”

PitStop received a $5,000 grant from Macomb County for fuel locations, which assisted in keeping staff on the payroll and for personal protective equipment.

While no employees were laid off, some did step aside in order to stay home with their children, who were educated in a virtual setting.

Jawad said the business is always hiring, even during the pandemic.

“There was never much luck hiring early on and that became more difficult when unemployment benefits were offered,” Jawad said.

A now-hiring sign was posted on the front door of the PitStop location at the corner of 26 Mile and Romeo Plank roads.

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