For West County Restaurants, the Jobs Are Plentiful, But the Workers Are Few 

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click to enlarge Greek Kitchen owners Lisa Nichols and Joe Kandel moved their restaurant closer to the city and found a "50-fold" increase in job responses. - TOM HELLAUER
  • TOM HELLAUER
  • Greek Kitchen owners Lisa Nichols and Joe Kandel moved their restaurant closer to the city and found a "50-fold" increase in job responses.

After closing the Greek Kitchen in Ellisville, co-owner Joe Kandel ran a test ad seeking servers on Indeed.com and Craigslist for a new restaurant in Kirkwood, which happens to be significantly closer to the city and its labor pool. The response would determine whether he and Nicholas would actually reopen in the mid-county suburb.

He received more than 90 responses. And so in August, the partners decided to open a new Greek Kitchen at 343 South Kirkwood Road.

So far, they say, it's been a big success. "There are nights where people can't get in because it's so crowded," Kandel says.

As to the staffing side of the equation, Kandel says, the response to any job ad is "50-fold" what he got in Ellisville.

"We have a great core. We just need one more person, but they are doing great," he says.

Like the Pasta House, the Greek Kitchen also had an employee, Faith, who made a two-and-a-half-hour trek to Ellisville from the city. Her commute is now 30 minutes shorter.

"She is still with us and a very loyal employee," Kandel says.

Despite the low pay and the long commute, Marzette says he likes his job at Pasta House. He has been with the restaurant for three years; prior to that he did tuckpointing and worked at the Steak 'n Shake in Chesterfield.

The environment at the restaurant, he says, is "real pleasant, real nice." He has received "employee of the month" awards a number of times.

"He's a good guy, works hard," says Paul Reynolds, a chef at the Ellisville location who has been with Pasta House for 30 years.

Some days, Marzette gets a ride to work from a coworker, which shortens his commute by a full 90 minutes.

On the seventh day, he cleans his house. Still, he seems to savor small things, like the fact that the bus stop is right outside his house. "It's a blessing. It's a blessing," he says.

Sitting on the bus leaving Maplewood that October morning, it's almost silent. Marzette says that's unusual; it gets loud. It's one of the first cold days of the year, so that may have something to do with it.

Or it may be something else.

A fellow passenger says to Marzette, "Don't you know that big lady who used to drive the bus?" Marzette nods.

"Yeah, she died," the passenger says. Other passengers have also heard the news, but they are unsure of her name.

Crystal Chrisp, 46, had spent eighteen years as a Metro bus driver. She was battling cancer and committed suicide, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. A few weeks earlier, she sent a letter to Stray Rescue of St. Louis, asking them to adopt her dog.

"I've been fighting cancer for a few months, and if you're reading this I lost my battle," the letter stated.

Marzette estimates he rode on her bus a thousand times.

The passenger who broke the news says, "She shot herself, man. It shows you can have a good job and still have problems."

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