Door County seasonal workers may be impacted by Ukraine conflict

The number of international workers for the tourism hotspot was already down because of the pandemic
Published: Mar. 11, 2022 at 5:51 PM CST
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SISTER BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - The fighting in Ukraine hits close to home for one Door County employee and Ukrainian immigrant. This, as Door County business leaders fear the Russian invasion could deal a significant blow to their operations.

At Al Johnson’s in Sister Bay, famous for its Swedish pancakes, thoughts are with Ukraine. Especially for one employee, Volodymyr Gannik, who calls the war-torn country home.

In terms of how Gannik has been feeling the past few days, “like hell honest to God,” Gannik said. “My brain is on fire. It’s not possible to explain. I keep working between tears and smiles and this and that and talking to people. It’s just like, it seems unbearable.”

Known as Vlad, one of the best servers at Al Johnson’s was on the phone constantly with his mother as she fled from Ukraine to Finland this week. Vlad started serving at Al Johnson’s in June 2015 but first came to the U.S. in 2006 as a J1 visa student. It’s a foreign interchange program that allows college students to train and work across the country, especially in Door County.

J1 visa students help throughout the Al Johnson’s campus. Whether that’s in the restaurant with Gannik or just stocking shelves here in the gift shop. Al Johnson’s says having their help can make a huge difference.

“It is crucial to have J1 visa students,” Al Johnson’s front of the house manager, Jaime Blossom, emphasized. “Our staff goes from probably 80 people to 120 people. We can have 35 to 45 J1 visa students coming to help us out during our busy tourist season. Without them, it’s crippling.”

While Al Johnson’s is unsure what the J1 visa process will look like this summer or how many students they may get, Door County tourism leaders are optimistic about this summer.

“Due to the pandemic numbers have been down considerably the last two years,” Jon Jarosh, director of communications and public relations at Destination Door County, shared. However, “all indications that we have at this point in time is that 2022 looks to be another really solid year for the summer work travel program across the United States and including here in Door County.”

Door County has many international workers during the summer

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