There’s nothing like a tasty, cheap weekend brunch, but some Mainers just lost a favorite — South Portland’s Scratch Baking Co. has announced its Toast Bar is staying closed because it can't find enough workers.
Scratch Baking Co. said Wednesday that it's closing its second location, after initially announcing a temporary closure in September and hoping to reopen this month.
"When we closed in September we had hoped to re-open in October with the Toast Bar running on all cylinders," said a sign posted on the door this week with a message from Scratch. "Unfortunately, with the current labor shortage, we just can't find the staff to provide the experience and service to our customers that is so important to us."
Toast Bar, Scratch Baking Co.’s toast- and bagel-focused offshoot, opened in fall of 2017 and was housed in what used to be a car wash, according to a review by MaineToday.
“It is an extremely difficult decision and one that admittedly feels a bit like defeat because who likes to disappoint folks who want their toast!?” Scratch said on Facebook.
This may not be the end of Toast Bar, however. The owners of Scratch hope to reopen it in the spring and, until then, plan to use the Toast Bar space for catered breakfast meetings and special events, according to the bakery’s Facebook announcement.
Toast Bar is not alone in its employee struggle, according to Gary Perlmutter, a career consultant at the Maine State Career Center in Portland.
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"It is a problem," he said. "We've heard of places closing for a day because of a lack of help."
Maine is experiencing shortage of younger and skilled workers to replace the thousands of baby boomers retiring within the next few years, according to WGME. Maine has tried to help solve the issue by lowering the minimum age to work to 14, necn has reported.
The unemployment rate in Maine in September was 2.9% — "almost historically low," according to Perlmutter — and has been below 4% for nearly four years, according to a Maine Department of Labor news release.
The Portland area is dealing with an even lower unemployment rate of 1.9%, Perlmutter said. That stands in contrast to the lines of job hunters you'd see waiting for computers at the computers a decade ago, he said.
MaineHealth and Bath Iron Works, both large employers in Maine, have in excess of 1000 job openings each.
The solution Perlmutter says isn't easy or simple.
"The population is getting older, I think it's going to require an effort on a number of people's parts like government, industry and professional organizations," he said.
In the short term, employers have other options.
"We have job fairs once a month here," said Perlmutter, who added that employers are always welcome to recruit at the career center and can use a state platform called WorkShare, which allows employers to reduce employees' hours but supplements workers' income with state unemployment money.
Whether or not Toast Bar's owners will chose one of those options and re-open before spring is unknown.
The owners did not return a request for comment on Thursday.
Their sign and the message on Facebook say they will be re-visiting whether or not Toast Bar will re-open in Spring 2020.