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Secret sauce: Amid staffing shortages in Hampton Roads, some restaurant owners with full staff share what's working

We're still seeing staffing shortages across the hospitality industry, from the Oceanfront to Williamsburg. But this isn't an issue for everyone.

NORFOLK, Va. — The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits dropped to a new pandemic low!

The Labor Department reports claims fell for the fifth week in a row. Only 385,000 claims were filed last week. That's down about 20,000 from the week before.

It's a different story here at home. Unemployment claims in Virginia actually went up.

We're still seeing staffing shortages across the hospitality industry. From the Oceanfront to Williamsburg, businesses are feeling the pressure as we roll into the summer tourist season.

But this isn't an issue for everyone.

Fox Tail Wine Bar popped up in Hampton in October. They offer local, ethically sourced dishes.

“It’s a whole environment we are trying to create,” said co-owner Justin Ramos.

Even with well-documented staffing shortages across Hampton Roads, Ramos has a full crew of 14.

“I was just lucky enough that the people that walked in here liked the whole idea behind everything and they believed in it,” Ramos said.

Ramos' secret to success: he said most kitchen staff are salaried and servers make $5 an hour with tips.

“The people that come here tip 25 to 30 percent, on average,” Ramos said.

His employees also get benefits like dental and vision and he serves a big staff meal each day.

The family approach seems to be working.

“On my first day, I came in and everybody was eating dinner together and I was like, 'Oh, what’s this?'” said server Sadira Glass.

Crudo Nudo in Norfolk is also rocking a full staff. Owner Eric Nelson said his team is on the smaller side too, but they’re tight-knit. Nelson said chefs at the Spanish-tapas restaurant are salaried, kitchen staff make $15 an hour and servers get tips.

“I don’t necessarily think it is all about the money to the extent,” Nelson said. “We all work here like we are all part of Crudo Nudo. We all have an input of what happens.”

Nelson also offers meals, but no benefits. Instead, he hasn’t taken a salary since last year. Neither has Ramos.

“That’s the way we always made sure everybody got paid and everybody was doing their thing,” Nelson said.

Both owners work alongside their team day in and out. If you ask what they think is the secret sauce to staffing, you’ll get a simple answer.

“I think one of the biggest things I did hear from people working in that larger environment, they just want to have a voice,” Nelson said. “They want to feel valued.”

Creating a place where staff can’t wait to work at is perhaps the secret to success.

 “It’s important for the staff to believe in what they are doing, care about it, want to do it,” Ramos said.

ADP Payroll services also reported that the biggest gains in jobs this month were in the hospitality sector, with 440,000 new hires.

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