ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — There are 1.7 million fewer Americans working in the leisure and hospitality industries than there were before the pandemic began.

Liz Rammer, the CEO of Hospitality Minnesota, says the industry’s down 40,000 jobs statewide.

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Restaurants like St. Paul’s Capital View Cafe are feeling that squeeze.

Kathy Bauer made the difficult decision this week to temporarily close her family’s breakfast and lunch spot.

“Everyone’s shocked because we were doing very well, but we can’t risk a customer getting sick versus a family member or one of our workers,” she said.

In addition to COVID-19 concerns, a restaurant Facebook post also cites a shortage of workers as a reason for shutting down.

(credit: CBS)

The cafe had already cut its hours, and Bauer says there was so little staff, everyone had to work every day.

“We’re extremely short on cooks,” she said. “Really, right now we have one cook and if he would get sick, that would be — we’d be closed anyways.”

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Rammer says there are a number of possible reasons for workers leaving the industry.

“It can be child care, elder care, certainly the remote learning aspect forced folks to not be able to work,” she said.

Bauer says some of her employees left for Wisconsin and its looser COVID restrictions.

“They want to come back, but they’re really leery that Minnesota’s going to close again,” she said.

Rammer says wages have increased to attract and retain workers, but there’s only so much most restaurants can do.

“In a very tight margin business like food service and restaurants, it’s not a big profit margin … so it’s a huge balancing act and a big challenge for these folks,” she said.

For customers, it means wait times are likely to be longer, and Rammer says restaurants may decide to raise prices to make up for their higher costs.

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She said it could take years for businesses to recover from the pandemic. Corporate travel returning will be a huge boost.

David Schuman