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Downtown restaurants face challenges ramping up staff during March Madness

While downtown restaurant owners expect a bounce in business, they're still scrambling to fully staff their restaurants.

INDIANAPOLIS — A year ago, restaurants and bars shut down because of the pandemic. Even as they began to reopen, many customers were hesitant to come back.

But with Indianapolis now hosting nearly all of March Madness, the tables are turned. The city is looking forward to an influx of people over the next several weeks.

"We're really been looking forward to it for to it for a while," said Tommy Reinsch, general manager of the Gallery Pastry Bar, which opened in July. It's right across from Bankers Life Fieldhouse, one of the tournament venues.  

While he expects a bounce in business, he's still scrambling to fully staff his restaurant.

"We are hiring almost every position right now, as far as front and back of house," he said and working hard to spread the word.

"I've been giving out my personal cell more than I like just to see what bites I can get as far as fishing goes," Reinsch said.

And the Pastry Bar is far from alone. 

Patrick Tamm, president of the Indiana Restaurant and Lodging Association said, "restaurants in Indiana overwhelmingly are putting up the 'help wanted' sign, downtown very much so. One hundred percent could use employees."

Tamm said it's the result of several factors including "additional federal unemployment checks." 

Another? Continued safety concerns.

Maddy Dickerson with Patachou, Inc., which owns 14 restaurants, said she understands that.

"Our industry is one of only industries that can't work from home, can't work remotely. We have to physically be in our location," Dickerson said.

Patachou's downtown Napolese restaurant just reopened for the first time last week. Dickerson said with so many downtown office workers working from home, closing made the most sense.

With March Madness, springtime and people getting vaccinated, she said it was the perfect time to reopen the restaurant, but for dinner only Tuesday through Saturday. 

While they're still looking to fill spots there, she said "we're still hiring at all locations" from managers and servers to dishwashers and cooks.

And they're offering employees "a healthy referral bonus" for referrals that lead to filled positions, while touting other incentives.

"As a whole, we push that you can make a career out of any position at Patachou, Inc.," Dickerson said. "We offer benefits, a 401k and financial literacy programs."

Dickerson also noted while it's been challenging finding workers, given everything the industry went through last year, they're just glad to be open again and welcoming back customers.