Pandemic continues to affect hospitality industry 

SOUTHWEST HARBOR — Over the last couple of weeks, Sips Cafe Manager Diana Novella has had to adjust and reprint the menu at least four times because of supply shortages.  

Across the street, Hearth and Harbor has reduced its menu to salads and pizzas because of a staff shortage. In Northeast Harbor, the Kimball Terrace Inn is cutting back on the number of times rooms get cleaned when guests stay for multiple days because of its lack of housekeepers.  

“This is the first time in a really long time we haven’t done breakfast,” said Novella, adding they started out this season offering the meal but had to stop after a couple of weeks. “We couldn’t do it anymore, no staff. That’s our biggest issue this year – no staff.”

Hospitality businesses had to pivot in 2020 when the pandemic hit and then the summer season really didn’t begin until July due to travel restrictions and other pandemic-related measures. Even though 2021 is proving to be one of the busiest seasons on record, businesses are still having to pivot to meet demand with staff and housing shortages, as well as supply chain issues.  

“Like every other business, we’re short staffed,” said Kat Dougan, co-owner of Hearth and Harbor. “We’ve been consistently busy since we opened. We’ve had to shut down twice because we were short staffed… We had a more extensive menu with really nice dishes. We had to eliminate that and now we’re counter style.” 

During the summer season, the Main Street restaurant is able to extend its dining room into a backyard beer garden and offer a total of 64 seats.  

“We couldn’t keep up with business for dishwashing, cooking and plating with two people in the kitchen,” said Dougan, explaining how they were inundated with business earlier than normal for the season. “Someone who comes to the island is going to have to wait an hour for their food. People who wait an hour with us are so happy because the food’s so good.” 

Robust business at the Bar Harbor Inn, as with most places on Mount Desert Island, began earlier in the year this season, which had an effect on how staff was trained. 

“Our biggest challenge this season has been that we didn’t get that traditional slow buildup period of the season we get in March-May where you can hire someone, train them over a few months of moderate occupancy and cover counts and by this time of the year it’s a high functioning team,” said Bar Harbor Inn General Manager Jeremy Dougherty. “Instead, we were welcoming our team in the spring and were immediately sold out in the hotel and restaurants the next day. Our team did an incredible job adjusting quickly yet still a big challenge many of businesses can probably relate to this year.”  

Hearth and Harbor has a strong staff at this point, but there have been some tough lessons this season with losing those who have been trained.  

“The younger  – under 25ers – feel like they can go anywhere and do anything because they can and they’re going to get paid more,” said Dougan, who worked for a couple of decades in the Philadelphia restaurant industry. “The main problem is the housing issue, it’s awful here. We could have gotten professionals from Philadelphia here, but they would have had to stay in Bangor.” 

Places that do offer housing, like the Kimball Terrace Inn, haven’t had great luck finding employees either.  

“I even had shared housing for housekeeping and I got nothing,” said owner Penny Fernald, whose father built the establishment 52 years ago. “We did not get a lot of our J1 (visa) students this year. I had room for four female housekeepers and I have one living in the room.” 

At Sips, where they are still hiring, management has made the decision to close two days in a row to retain the staff they have.  

“We’re closed completely on Sundays and Mondays,” said Novella. “It’s easier for staffing purposes to be closed two days in a row. If one of our chefs is sick, we may not be able to open.” 

This month marked a special milestone for Sips Cafe when the restaurant welcomed back one of its main attractions – live music.  

“We’re super happy that we’re able to start live music again,” said Novella, adding that it happens every Thursday night from 6-8 p.m. “Our last night of live music was March 8, 2020. Seventeen months later, we’re starting live music again. It’s great. People love it.” 

Both the restaurants and the hotels have faced supply chain shortages this season.  

“We’ve had to wait and we’ve had to change up some of our items in order to bring in what is needed,” said Fernald, about house cleaning supplies.  

“Right now, we can’t get pita chips so we’re not doing them,” said Novella, adding that getting wine from France this season has been incredibly difficult. “The supply chain has been so affected by everything. We’ve had to make menu changes so many times.”
Despite the added challenges, most business owners will agree it is nice to have business back, even if it is at a higher volume than before the pandemic.  

“This season has been exceptionally busy to a degree we haven’t seen in past years,” said Dougherty in an email to the Islander. “At this stage of the season however, it’s largely the same as it usually is and we’ll be on this full capacity plateau through October.   

“People are traveling and their expectations are back to what they were pre-pandemic. We are excited to be back in the hospitality business again and able to serve and guide people through their stays on MDI.”   

Sarah Hinckley

Sarah Hinckley

Former Islander reporter Sarah Hinckley covered the towns of Southwest Harbor, Tremont and neighboring islands.

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