Restaurants desperate for kitchen help, offering enticing incentives

Ben (left), Shannah, Kimbo and Mario are some of the kitchen staff at Truago Resaurant in Trenton. They are looking for some co-workers.

Restaurateur Jeremy Syrocki has a message: His businesses are hiring.

Syrocki, who is involved in ownership of Truago restaurant in Trenton, Major Biddle in Wyandotte and Lloyd’s on Grosse Ile, said all three businesses are in need of employees, especially cooks and kitchen help.

“We need to get some staff hired,” Syrocki said. “We’ve been extremely busy and our current staff needs some help.

Syrocki said his restaurants are looking for all sorts of help from waitstaff, to bartenders to dishwashers, but the most pressing need is for chefs, line cooks and prep cooks.

Chefs, said Syrocki, run the show. They set up the day-to-day operation, handle scheduling and, in general, act as the boss. Line cooks are the ones who do the heavy lifting, standing over stoves, actually cooking the food that gets served to customers. Prep cooks, who work mostly during the day, do just what the name implies: prepare things for the line cooks to cook.

Syrocki said the prep cook role is vital at Truago, Major Biddle and Lloyds because so much of the food at the restaurants is prepared daily. Little comes from a freezer or a can and little is prepped more than a few hours in advance of being cooked.

“We are prep-intensive,” said Syrocki. “We prepare everything fresh, every single day.”

To get new staff on board, Syrocki is willing to step up and offer greater pay and benefits.

Already since the pandemic, he has increased pay for his kitchen staff by about 20 percent and he is willing to open his wallet further.

“We are trying to get creative,” he said.

One of the things the restaurants are doing to hire kitchen talent is offering four 10-hour workdays. In addition, they are willing to pay 45 hours for 40 hours of work. That’s a pretty attractive offer.

Also, Syrocki is offering up to $500 sign-on bonuses depending on an applicant’s experience level and the management team is looking into providing health insurance for its employees.

Syrocki is a good person to work for. The loyalty of his staff tells that story.

For example, Truago head prep chef Veronica Manzano predates even Truago and has worked for Syrocki for 10 years.

“Our team of employees is what makes our restaurants succeed and a majority of them have been with the company since day one,” Syrocki said.

Many of Truago’s employees, like general manager Carrie Hancock, have been with the restaurant since it opened five years ago. 

To thank the staff for its hard work, on June 28, the restaurants will be closed and all 110 employees will be treated to a special Detroit River cruise on the Diamond Jack riverboat. There will be live music, dancing, a catered meal and an open bar.

“It’s going to cost us some money, but our employees have worked exceptionally hard and they have earned it,” said Syrocki, who also recently paid bonuses to kitchen staff in appreciation of their hard work.

Syrocki said hiring cooks has always been hard, but since the pandemic and since the additional unemployment benefits given by the federal government, it has become even more difficult.

“Cooks bounce around,” said Syrocki. “That’s how they gain experience, so you’re always looking for more cooks. But now, if I can pay them $600 a week and they can make $900 sitting on their couch, it makes it tough. Hopefully, somewhere down the road there will be incentives to get people to go back to work.”

Syrocki has shown that he is not afraid to pay up for good help, but, he said, in the end, it leads to higher prices for diners.

“Margins are very, very slim in the restaurant business,” he said. “If I was paying cooks $13 an hour and now I am paying them $17 or $18, that increase is going to have to be passed on to customers.”

Syrocki is acutely aware of how important his workers are.

“Our No. 1 goal in the kitchen has and always will be the quality and consistency of our food. The No. 1 goal for the service staff is to make sure every guest that walks through our door has an outstanding experience with us.

“And the cooks are warriors, they just are. The restaurant business is like a drug. You get an adrenaline rush when things are crazy busy and there are a bunch of tickets lined up. Then there is that feeling at the end of a wild night and you look back and say, “Whew, look what we just did!’”

So, if you are a warrior cook, looking for that adrenaline rush, Jeremy Syrocki has a place for you.

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