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Posted on Thu, Aug 23, 2012 : 5:59 a.m.

Restaurants continue to hire as food service industry grows at record rate in Washtenaw County

By Ben Freed


Tropical Smoothie Cafe is among those hiring.

Ben Freed |

Another promising sign for the area’s economy is literally a sign. More accurately, it’s a number of signs reading “Help Wanted,” “Now Hiring,” or “Please Take an Application” hanging in the windows of local restaurants.

This hiring boom, combined with numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicating that the restaurant business is already at a record number of employees, is a strong indicator that Washtenaw County is getting back on track..

While it’s not a perfect bellwether for the economy as a whole, the restaurant industry tends to do well when people have more disposable income.

“The causality is that when the overall economy in the area strengthens, the restaurants follow,” said Donald Grimes, an economist who prepares a yearly forecast for the Washtenaw county region. “A lot of this activity is going along with the growth of the IT and healthcare industries in the region, particularly health care research.”

BLS statistics indicate the restaurant and accommodation sector in the Ann Arbor area employed approximately 12,900 people for both June and July. That's the most employed in the sector in any two-month period dating back to 1990. These numbers are not seasonally adjusted, but the growth by 1,100 jobs in the sector between January and June was the biggest gain over a six-month period in that time span.


Some restaurants, like Red Hawk Bar and Grill on South State Street, are looking for experienced employees.

Ben Freed |

More than 70 ads seeking restaurant employees in the Ann Arbor area have been posted on craigslist since Monday. If the industry continues to grow, it could reach the 13,000-employee mark for the first time next month. Restaurants such as Tropical Smoothie Cafe and the new Cafe Habana location will be among those hiring new staff.

Some of the upcoming hiring can be attributed to the return of students to campus in the coming weeks.

“When students are in town, that’s when we have business,” Mike El-Awar, an employee at Rendezvous on South University, said.

“We always hire a lot of people in the fall, because that’s when we need them.”

However, not all of the hiring is due to an increase in business. Joe Polidori, a manager at an Ann Arbor Olga’s Kitchen location, said his business stays steady in the fall but it’s still when he does most of his hiring.

“We’re ramping up because our staff will be minimizing hours because of their school schedules,” he said.

The ability to be flexible with hours, and to work during the day, was mentioned by multiple restaurant managers when asked what would set candidates apart.

Grimes said that employment numbers were growing much faster than predicted, and could be the result of speculative investing by some restaurateurs.

“It’s that businesses are seeing an opportunity here and may be getting a little ahead of themselves,” he said. “Some businesses might be opening in expectation of continued growth in the Ann Arbor area. That’s indicative of the confidence that’s felt right now in the local economy continuing to grow.”

Ben Freed covers business for Reach him at 734-623-2528 or email him at Follow him on twitter @BFreedinA2



Thu, Aug 23, 2012 : 7:14 p.m.

I view the creation of any job to be a good thing. I'd rather work than draw unemployment or welfare. Plus, the creation of lower wage jobs in no way precludes the creation of higher wage seems many posts on here thinks that's the case. It's not either / or...


Tue, Sep 4, 2012 : 2:52 p.m.

I hope you low-wage jobs pays your rent. car, insurance.EyE/denatl ..and THE I=Pod , gas fro car. etc etc..And also the most THAT your Customer give you a 20-50% TIP. money you can could on every day you work plus the IiRS takes 8%/facts of life


Thu, Aug 23, 2012 : 6:24 p.m.

A2 has no shortage of restaurants, or of people willing to bet on their own peculiar take on culinary bliss. Most never make it past the first couple of years. While there has been some modest growth in the local economy over the past year or two, it is a far cry from excessive exuberance of the late '90s tech boom, or the auto industry in its heyday. More like a dead cat bounce off the bottom... and with more economic shoes to drop going forward, I don't think I'd bet the ranch on the long term prospects for any the current crop of new eateries


Thu, Aug 23, 2012 : 6:01 p.m.

Any growth should be considered to be great news. This will create another pool of jobs for our soon-to-be college graduates.


Tue, Sep 4, 2012 : 2:48 p.m.

YEA right, the last graduuates are still looking for good paying live long Jobs..NO Interships!


Thu, Aug 23, 2012 : 4:37 p.m.

Everyone posting about how restaurant jobs are undesirable seem to be missing the larger picture. If more restaurant staff is needed that implies that more people in the area have a larger amount of discretionary income for spending on eating out, which indicates more higher paying jobs and stability across the board. Instead people just want to complain...


Tue, Sep 4, 2012 : 2:55 p.m.

There are draw back to some of this jobs : When the bartender ,waitstaff has to clean the bathrooms, kitchen or in some case have to pay for people coming in to clean OUt of THERE TIPPS> Not all bosses have eoungh staff to fill all jobs !


Thu, Aug 23, 2012 : 4:14 p.m.

I suppose the point folks are missing is competition is always a good thing for the private sector. For consumers it lowers prices for products and services. So, for employees in a given sector it should raise wages and benefits for potential or current employees in this sector because naturally, if an employer doesn't want to pay a competitive wage and benefit package, the employee should then have many other options.


Tue, Sep 4, 2012 : 2:57 p.m.

SO what is the wages in a restraunt as of Sept. 2012


Tue, Sep 4, 2012 : 2:46 p.m.

TIME goverment get competion. make us an OFFER we cannot refuse or we all moving to SWEDEN!


Thu, Aug 23, 2012 : 6:04 p.m.

Lowering prices to better compete will not raise wages and benefits. In fact, unless these are high end places to eat, they will not be paying a living wages.


Thu, Aug 23, 2012 : 3:56 p.m.

The public sector does not have a problem with unemployment. Obama was right.


Thu, Aug 23, 2012 : 2:43 p.m.

During the Bush years when unemployment was at 5%, I remember the press talking about how the President only created "Hamburger Flipping Jobs". It was a bad thing then, now it is a "GOOD THING"?


Tue, Sep 4, 2012 : 2:45 p.m.

OH how times have changes and still the same.$ 0,19 MCDonald and gasoline $0.27 ....... still buying the same improvment In STYLE of living1


Fri, Aug 24, 2012 : 9:07 p.m.

Was that before Bush lost 9 million jobs at a rate of 750,000/month, the Dow crashed and lost half of it's value, the auto industry tanked, he had to sign the TARP bill, the home foreclosure mess started, the unemployment rate had started it's rise and was at 7.8%, etc. ?


Fri, Aug 24, 2012 : 12:32 a.m.

Obama owns this title now!


Thu, Aug 23, 2012 : 6:07 p.m.

I wonder why this is the case? Isn't AA known (self-proclaimed) to have the brightest people on the planet? If this is the case, I wonder why discussions would be so biased!


Thu, Aug 23, 2012 : 4:17 p.m.

It's a good thing as long as a liberal is in office on a left leaning news source.

Nancy Shore

Thu, Aug 23, 2012 : 1:34 p.m.

There is a low cost benefit that any of these downtown employers can offer their employees. It's called the go!pass and it can provide employees with unlimited use of all TheRide fixed route buses, discounts on other transportation options, and discounts to tons of downtown stores. Most downtown restaurants already participate in the go!pass program but we're always happy to help out others! More info:


Thu, Aug 23, 2012 : 4:13 p.m.

I don't know why you were voted down, but I agree! Even though I have a car, I appreciate that my company offers Go! Passes. It helps people get to work, local businesses offer discounts if you present it to them (like 10% off drink orders at Sweetwaters, for example) and it also alleviates parking!


Thu, Aug 23, 2012 : 1:24 p.m.

I'll get excited when jobs that offer a full-time employee a living wage are on the rise. The majority of these jobs are at or below minimum wage and offer no benefits. I spoke with an on-site manager at a local Subway who was leaving for a better-paying job in Toledo. She said her boss only paid her minimum wage and offered zero benefits, even though she would have chipped in 50% of the cost of health insurance.


Tue, Sep 4, 2012 : 3:03 p.m.

SPARTY > the facts The minium Wages doesnot effect the pay of restaurant worker THE ARE LIVING of there tips and the Wages is based on the sales of that resteraunt. so the lower the sale the lower the "WAGE" some year back it was $ 99, cent..get the fact ..


Fri, Aug 24, 2012 : 9 p.m.

"The majority of these jobs are at or below minimum wage and offer no benefits" I'd challenge anyone to provide proof of any business hiring anyone below minimum wage, as that is strictly illegal. Facts, anyone?


Thu, Aug 23, 2012 : 5:33 p.m.

"How about the food service industry poaching workers who used to have a decent job at a factory, or people who find their college degree worthless in the new world order." Actually, that would be a more interesting article. How many college educated people or underemployed people currently entering food service industry for employment? But, I suppose that would require some investigative journalism which is void of.

Ben Petiprin

Thu, Aug 23, 2012 : 4:17 p.m.

"Poaching food service industry workers," this is the most ridiculous phrase I have ever read. How about the food service industry poaching workers who used to have a decent job at a factory, or people who find their college degree worthless in the new world order. Though I suppose it's easy to make comments about the economy when you have a good job like a reporter. Washtenaw County will soon consist of two types of people: college students and those that serve them.


Thu, Aug 23, 2012 : 4 p.m.

"While not every job is an ideal job, in our area there are multiple industries that are experiencing growth." Thanks for pointing that out, again. You see here on folks don't believe in reading the article. They'd rather just read the headline and then complain in the comments section until someone points out the obvious.

Ben Freed

Thu, Aug 23, 2012 : 1:46 p.m.

63Townie, One reason the restaurants are being forced to hire more is that there are more and better paying jobs that have been poaching food service industry workers. Polidori, the manager at Olga's, told me that he has lost several employees to other jobs. He said there were four instances just over the summer where he offered jobs to people who turned them down because they had found better opportunities in other sectors. While not every job is an ideal job, in our area there are multiple industries that are experiencing growth.


Thu, Aug 23, 2012 : 11:57 a.m.

Great jobs. For college students.


Thu, Aug 23, 2012 : 3:58 p.m.

Great job for somebody who is unemployed. Or are you one of those holding out for that "management position".


Thu, Aug 23, 2012 : 1:20 p.m.

These are important jobs in the economy and continues to create the cycle of earn and spend that creates stability and growth. These are great training jobs, jobs or students as you mentioned, jobs for those who need a little extra for a short period, or someone retired just looking to make a few extra bucks and stay active. This can't be discounted.


Thu, Aug 23, 2012 : 1:03 p.m.

it's not great, but IT'S A JOB in a rotten economy.