Vail restaurant feels labor pinch |

Vail restaurant feels labor pinch

Kristen Anderson/Vail DailyBartender KJ Williams, right, mixes up hot chocolates for customers Kelli Glass, left, and Stephen Leighton, left center, during lunch at Sweet Basil restaurant Thursday in Vail Village.

VAIL, Colorado ” It’s a small change, but some say it’s a sign of the times in Vail.

Sweet Basil, the acclaimed Vail Village restaurant, will no longer serve lunch on Mondays and Tuesday, though it will remain open for lunch the other five days of the week and still serve dinner every night.

The reason? Sweet Basil couldn’t find enough cooks for its kitchen. After weeks of paltry response from help-wanted ads ” and a holiday season in which its workers were stretched thin ” the owners decided to cut back its lunch schedule, at least temporarily.

They didn’t want to sacrifice the quality that Sweet Basil prides itself on, said Matt Morgan, one of the owners.

“There’s a breaking point, and we felt like we were at it,” Morgan said.

Help-wanted signs are widespread around town. Redevelopment is creating more and more jobs in Vail while housing becomes more and more expensive. Second-home owners ” who make up some two-thirds of homeowners in town ” are buying homes that once housed workers.

Limited amenities ” or lower-quality amenities ” could be the end result of Vail’s worker-housing crunch.

“It’s just the tip of the iceberg,” said Kevin Foley, a Vail councilman, citing projects under construction that will employ hundreds of more people.

Many businesses are facing the same challenges as Sweet Basil ” even if they aren’t cutting back services yet, Foley said.

“Basil’s just the first one to say, ‘Hey, this is what’s going to happen,'” he said.

Vail will be hard-pressed to keep service levels as high as those in other resorts if the worker shortage continues, Foley said.

Local governments, including Vail and Eagle County, have enacted laws and pushed for public-private partnerships that seek to create more housing. But new affordable housing has not kept up with the new jobs that are being created.

“This housing thing, this employee shortage, is not 2020,” Morgan said. “It’s now.”

Developers must be compelled to compensate for impacts they create on the community ” including the creation of more jobs, Foley said. And developers shouldn’t be allowed to defer those commitments, Foley said.

Vail Resorts was recently given an extension for coming up with a plan to satisfy its employee-housing requirements for the giant Arrabelle at Vail Square project, which is now open and employing scores of people, even without the worker housing in place.

Sweet Basil has had help-wanted ads in the paper for weeks, but they don’t get phone calls, Morgan said.

Cutting back its schedule was not something they wanted to do, Morgan said, but they couldn’t maintain its level of quality ” the restaurant routinely notches culinary accolades and awards, including “most popular restaurant in Colorado” from the Zagat poll ” with its staffing shortage.

“We hope that this will be a short-lived deal,” Morgan said.

Morgan acknowledged that Sweet Basil needs, first and foremost, to look inward to solve its staffing shortage. It has raised wages significantly, some 30 to 40 percent, over the last several years, he said. Last fall, it bought a four-bedroom condo in East Vail to house its workers. It also offers benefits, including a ski pass.

The restaurant will continue to consider ways it can attract workers, Morgan said, including buying more housing.

But government, too, should consider housing initiatives, he said.

“People who resist employee-housing initiatives don’t see the full picture,” Morgan said.

Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 748-2929 or

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