This semester, students have made the trek to Wiggin Street Coffee only to find the doors to the campus’ coffee shop locked — sometimes at noon, sometimes at 3 p.m. and sometimes all day.
Wiggins has been impacted by staffing shortages since the onset of the pandemic, causing the business to limit its hours of operation and suspend indoor dining. In past semesters, the hours have typically been 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., but a lack of staffing and a high turnover rate have affected these hours, which now fluctuate day by day. Despite current labor shortages, Wiggins intends to reopen indoor dining at the beginning of the spring 2023 semester, along with a return to consistent, longer hours of operation.
Businesses in Gambier have suffered from labor shortages since the beginning of the pandemic. Such shortages are affecting business operations nationwide, with the most difficulty falling upon low-wage industries and low-income areas. As of April 2022, Ohio’s unemployment rate had fallen to 4.0%. However, despite lowering unemployment rates, many businesses are still understaffed, particularly restaurants and other food service businesses such as Wiggins.
Jessica Chadwick, the regional operations manager for River Road Coffee, oversees Wiggins as well as three other locations within Ohio. Chadwick has recently assumed more responsibilities with the initial hiring process, with the intention of increasing employment opportunities at Wiggins.
“We have always had a higher turnover rate at our Gambier location as opposed to our other locations,” Chadwick wrote in an email to the Collegian. She explained that this is due to the difficulty of finding permanent residents of the area who are interested in working at Wiggins.
Another difficulty Wiggins faces with employment is that many former staff members, several of whom were students operating as part of Wiggins’ core staff, terminated their employment after their graduation. Some other long-term employees have other commitments that have forced them to take time off work, such as the current general manager for Wiggins, who is currently on maternity leave.
While there is a common misconception that Wiggins does not hire Kenyon students, the coffee shop usually has approximately five student employees to fill shifts and provide extra coverage on weekends. However, a difficulty with hiring Kenyon students is that they contribute to a higher turnover rate as they graduate, go on leave or study abroad. Additionally, Kenyon students often have complicated schedules and limited availability due to classes.
“Most applications [from Kenyon students] we receive are very specific on hours and weekend hours,” Chadwick said. “We require staff to work at the minimum ten hours per week and [they] must be available one weekend day. With us still needing to fill our base staffing, it makes it harder to find a fit for a very specific schedule.”
The minimum hours requirement poses a further challenge to hiring more Kenyon students at Wiggins. Chadwick noted that when student employees are unable to meet the ten hours per week requirement due to class schedules or extracurricular commitments, they sometimes struggle to manage the more intricate parts of the job, such as memorizing recipes or making drinks. “Students that can only work a few hours here and there do not completely gain full knowledge of the job at hand, because they are not there long enough to establish the routine of the position,” Chadwick said.
While Wiggins has had difficulty with hiring Kenyon students, other businesses within the Village of Gambier have found success with student workers. The Village Market, for example, currently employs twenty-six Kenyon students. This change comes following the Market’s new ownership by Betsy and Nick Jones at the start of the 2022-23 school year.
“We were warned not to hire college students by some folks because college students have their schedules fluctuating, they leave for breaks and it makes scheduling more challenging,” Nick Jones said. Nevertheless, they chose to go in the opposite direction.
Both Betsy and Nick Jones attribute their high Kenyon student employment numbers to student dedication, work ethic and sense of community. They both emphasized that hiring Kenyon students allows them to fulfill their previous goals of increasing the Market’s hours and allows them to focus on future aspirations for the Market. Among these goals are adding a pizza oven, expanding the deli area and potentially having later hours on weekends.
While staffing shortages currently impact Wiggins’ hours of operations, they also affect indoor dining. Chadwick worries that reopening indoor dining areas this semester would force more responsibilities onto an already thinly spread staff. Current employees would have to shift focus from food preparation to proper cleaning and sanitation of indoor dining areas, as well as washing dishes. Chadwick believes that at the moment, centralizing labor efforts on food production instead of indoor dining is both more efficient and kinder to employees.
“Who wants to work a shift where you feel unaccomplished, stressed out, overworked and not heard?” she said.
Despite current struggles with maintaining a strong staffing system, Chadwick is hopeful about future goals. She intends to re-establish a full leadership team at Wiggins, hire at least three full-time servers and promote at least one employee to a manager position to increase hours of operation. When Wiggins’ general manager returns from maternity leave and more employees are hired, Chadwick believes these changes in staffing will allow Wiggins to increase their hours of operation by the start of spring semester.
“If I’m being very realistic, I think we can get to 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., dine in open, with the start of the new semester,” she said. “We have a long way to go, but we have had many challenges these past few years. The trick is to remain positive and move forward.”