Shortage of chefs creates problems for Madison restaurants

Restaurant association program introduces students to careers in food industry
Shortage of chefs creates problems for Madison restaurants

As Madison’s reputation as a food destination grows, so does its apparent lack of chefs.

Patrick DePula runs Salvatore’s Tomato Pies on East Johnson Street but has run into trouble finding qualified cooks.

“One of the biggest headaches involved with opening this restaurant was staffing the kitchen,” he said. “Construction projects and finding front-of-house staffing was relatively easy compared to staffing the kitchen.”

The pizza joint has been unable to open on Sundays because of a lack of staff, and lunchtime hours have been cut as DePula continues to search for chefs. He said Salvatore’s isn’t the only restaurant feeling that cook crunch.

“Every other restaurant that you would talk to constantly has openings for cooks right now, and many people are running short,” DePula said, naming Sujeo, Graze and L’Etoile as just a few spots searching as well.

Other organizations are taking notice of the problem.

“Madison, like many other metro areas, has seen a real surge in restaurant activity, and therefore we’re seeing a higher demand for workers at all levels in the restaurant industry,” said Susan Quam, executive vice president for the Wisconsin Restaurant Association.

The association is now offering up solutions to the problem. It has started a program called ProStart, which works with about 100 high schools across Wisconsin to introduce students to careers within the food industry.

“It’s allowing people to see there are a lot of great careers in our industry, it is a great industry to work for and being in a back of the house job is one that’s very exciting,” Quam said of the program.

The city of Madison is getting involved in the shortage as well with a short introductory program that offers up skills to those interested in food. Madison College’s culinary program is also expanding over the next year.

DePula said the more classes available, the better and hopefully those programs will provide a solution for Salvatore’s sooner rather than later.

“Until then we’re waiting, and I’m on the line every day,” DePula said.