York County restaurants 'reinvent the wheel' to deal with supply chain, staffing troubles

Tina Locurto
York Dispatch

Many York County restaurants are being forced to "reinvent the wheel" after COVID-19 — creating new strategies to bring more customers in the door and keep their businesses afloat.

Changes in supply and demand for restaurant ingredients have forced some owners to revamp their menus or eliminate certain options. That includes Sean Arnold, the co-owner of The Left Bank.

“We're trying to do little things, and we're trying to do big things," Arnold said. “I think the biggest thing in terms of us and the industry and independent restaurants is that it's not a one day, one weekend type of thing. We need people in the door every day, every week."

Though staffing has been a challenge for many restaurant owners, The Left Bank is in decent shape, with much of the kitchen and waitstaff returning to work after COVID-19 restrictions lifted, Arnold said.

More hands would be appreciated, especially if multiple workers need to take off in a given week, he added.

“There's places where we could use another bartender, another person in the kitchen or another dishwasher,” Arnold said. “Right now we just have enough. But if one or two people took off, we'd be in dire straits for that weekend to work out service."

For Jim DeLisio's restaurant, Racehorse Tavern, few are applying to work.

The York County business owner has struggled to hire new staff, with many applicants coming in for interviews saying they can't work weekends or night shifts and want to be paid "off the books." One employee quit mid-shift shortly after being hired, DeLisio said.

“If I can tailor my business around their needs, I might get an employee," DeLisio said. "But I need people to fill my business model."

Jim DeLisio, president of the York County Tavern Association, speaks during a press conference at the recently-closed Vito's Pizza and Beer Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020. DeLisio called for easing of restrictions imposed on eateries due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Bill Kalina photo

Staff shortages are just the tip of the iceberg for DeLisio and many other York County restaurant owners. Commodities like delivery services are too expensive for restaurants to continue, and ever-increasing prices for ingredients such as chicken and seafood have forced some to eliminate menu options or up-charge, he added.

“It's a supply chain issue as well. We're having terrible times getting inventory," said DeLisio, who is also the president of the York County chapter of the Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association. 

Things like bottles of Jack Daniel's whiskey are impossible to get right now, he added.

In order to compensate for the ever-changing prices of food, Arnold was forced to change the number of scallops in a dish from four to three, as the price per scallop increased from $2 to $4.

“I think we still are reasonable even though the food and quality we serve costs more," Arnold said. "I feel in terms of cost to value factor, it's very much reasonable compared to other restaurants."

Chef and Co-owner Sean Arnold is shown at The Left Bank Restaurant & Bar in York City, Friday, July 16, 2021. Dawn J. Sagert photo

As DeLisio put it, "everybody is reinventing the wheel."

“If anybody stays and runs their business pre-COVID, they’re probably not going to stay around," DeLisio added.

Despite COVID-19 restrictions lifting statewide, more patrons need to get through the door, he said. 

“One of the biggest problems too is the public themselves has to spend a little more time getting out and getting these businesses back on their feet," DeLisio said. “The problem is that their alienation is the beginning of the destruction of the small businesses."

One way Arnold is encouraging customers is by offering special events and services — like the "Chef's Table Experience."

Server Frankie Banca, right, serves Ben Warntz, left, and Debbie Jones, both of West Manchester Township, at The Left Bank Restaurant & Bar in York City, Friday, July 16, 2021. Dawn J. Sagert photo

This experience is a themed, multi-course tasting meal with wine pairings to complement the dishes of the kitchen. The Left Bank's next Chef's Table Experience will be a Mexican cuisine tasting on Thursday priced at $95 a ticket. 

Those interested can purchase tickets by visiting https://leftbankyork.com/

Additionally, The Left Bank is partnering with The Appell Center for the Performing Arts in August to offer a four-course meal inspired by chef Anthony Bourdain. During the meal, a screening of the documentary "Roadrunner," which is about Bourdain, will be shown.

— Reach Tina Locurto at tlocurto@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @tina_locurto.