The original plan at Chow Morso Osteria was to present casual Italian street food, pasta, piadini sandwiches and other fare for lunch and dinner at 1500 Wynkoop Street, building on the brand's success as a fast-casual counter inside Avanti Food & Beverage. The possibility of adding morning hours was even considered, giving an espresso and grab-and-go option for the downtown crowd passing the corner restaurant on their way to work.
But opening an all-day eatery requires a rare commodity in the restaurant business right now: people. And good people were in short supply as restaurateur Ryan Fletter, owner of Barolo Grill in Cherry Creek, prepared to launch Chow Morso on September 6. But rather than stress his staff with overtime hours or risk hiring short-term employees who would jump ship at the first sign of a higher hourly wage, Fletter simply waited.
"I'm very protective over the culture of the staff here," he explains.
But now Fletter feels he has the right mix of employees with the right amount of training under their belts, so he's opening Chow Morso tonight (Thursday, September 13). But lunch hours have been put on hold for now, since he'd rather focus on getting dinner service right than add the distraction of having to hire and train additional lunchtime employees.
Fletter notes that hiring challenges have gone beyond just finding qualified industry professionals. With so many restaurants opening all over town, workers are able to find jobs close to where they live rather than having to commute. And traditional methods of advertising open positions (Craigslist and other online listings) have proven less fruitful than in previous years; Fletter says most responses to those kind of ads have come from people who have never worked in restaurants before.
At Barolo Grill, staffing has never been much of a stumbling block. "I've had to do very little hiring there," the owner notes. "References have been more important than advertising. The most effective method has been word of mouth, for customers as well as staffing."
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It doesn't hurt that Barolo Grill has had a longstanding tradition of taking tenured employees to Italy every summer to immerse them in the food and wine of the country, something Fletter plans to extend to Chow Morso employees who stick around long enough. But he also thinks building the right culture is more important than incentives when it comes to staff retention, since, unlike the old days in the restaurant industry, people won't put up with abusive or chaotic situations, regardless of the compensation.
Leading by example is also part of Fletter's strategy. "I've been a busboy and I've scrubbed the underside of tables," he recalls, noting that he's not the kind of restaurant owner to be seen driving an expensive car, preferring to come in on his scooter instead. And he's also likely to be the one locking the door behind his closing crew at the end of the night. "It's a long-distance growth cycle," he adds, not a way for him to get rich at the expense of the rest of the team.
So Chow Morso will be a dinner restaurant for now, and Fletter won't add lunch service until he's certain his team has found its stride and that word of mouth can spread that the new eatery is a great place to work.
And one thing potential employees will never have to worry about: Sunday brunch, which the restaurateur says is not part of his ownership philosophy. Chow Morso will be open Monday through Saturday, giving staff a chance to rest every Sunday.