Affordable housing and transportation in Greenville creating staffing problem for restaurants

The kitchen staff prepare food for the lunch rush at Limoncello.

GREENVILLE, S.C. (WSPA) – Downtown Greenville is booming, but the development is making it expensive to live there, especially for people who work in the restaurants and hotels lining Main Street. That creates an issue for businesses trying to keep people in those positions.

Larkin’s restaurants recently opened two new restaurants, so they’ve had to hire for quite a few jobs. The chef at one of their new restaurants, Limoncello, says downtown is where people want to work if they’re in the restaurant business.

“It’d be lovely to live directly downtown, but it’s expensive,” said Limoncello chef Alex Darrignton.

Darrington lives in Simpsonville because he says it’s more affordable. However, he says some of his co-workers have a much harder time getting to work.

“Getting here and getting home because obviously the bus ends at a certain time, and we do work late, and a lot of people can’t catch the bus at 11 o’clock at night because it’s not there,” Darrington said.

Restaurant owners say the lack of public transportation has made it harder for them to staff their restaurants.

“We had several people that we wanted to hire, but they couldn’t work the late night shift or they couldn’t get here early enough in the morning,” Larkin’s Restaurants COO, Bob Munnich said.

Living downtown is simply too expensive for people often making $20,000 a year or less.

“As recently as 11 years ago now, we actually had a surplus of units that were affordable for people working in our downtown… Now, we have, I would estimate 3000 [unit] shortage,” said Susan McLarty, a board member for The Greenville Housing Authority.

Recognizing housing and transportation was a problem for their employees, Munnich says they started an incentive program to help them get and keep employees in their expanding restaurants. They created an incentive program for the kitchen staff because they typically make less than the wait staff in the front of the restaurant.

“Giving them a percentage of the revenue above what we forecast…Typically when we’re over, we’re over dramatically,” Munnich said.

Employees say the program is helping.

“The busboys, the prep cooks, the dishwashers, people who are cooking on the line, these are people who need the money that they want to advance in their careers and lives and be able to afford a car to get to work, afford better housing,” Darrington said.

The Greenville Transit Authority held several meetings throughout October and November in order to get recommendations on how to improve public transportation. GTA will start with implementing new routes and route changes in order to keep people from waiting so long for the bus. GTA has told 7News expanding service is a goal of theirs, but it will take extra money to do so.