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Denver small businesses forced to innovate as employee shortage continues

Denver Poke Company
Posted at 9:07 PM, Oct 25, 2021

DENVER — Like many restaurants around Denver, the Denver Poke Company has been forced to innovate over the past two years.

From moving the business outside during the height of the pandemic one year ago to throwing out paper menus, every day has brought a different challenge.

"We stayed opened the whole time," said Anh Nguyen, the owner and head chef at Denver Poke Company. "We cut down our staff just a little bit. This place is not big, but we still had to cut it down."

As business and life returns to normal, those workers are not coming back. Though the restaurant is at full capacity with customers, Nguyen has only half of the staff members he needs to keep the place running.

The company also had to stop using delivery services like Door Dash and Uber Eats to slow orders normally handled by more employees.

Other restaurants around Denver have resorted to cutting dining hours, rolling back menus and closing kitchens altogether. Even larger chains are resorting to cutbacks to keep their restaurants open.

"I think it requires employers to become a lot more focused on efficiency and how to do more with less," said Jack Buffington, the program director for supply chain management at the University of Denver. "I think it's a real creative opportunity for businesses, but it really needs to be a conscious effort in how they solve for it. They're not gonna be able to solve it in the traditional ways, given the fact there's so much demand for workers."

For Nguyen, it takes innovation and passion to keep his business afloat.

"I feel like a lot of people are changing industries, you know, trying different fields out, different sectors," he said. "If you don't have passion, if you don't have the will to come in every day to do this, you know, there's no way you're going to survive."