OSHKOSH, Wis. (WBAY) -- For the first time in its 70 year run, Ardy & Ed’s Drive In closes its doors during the summer season.
“It was very difficult. I mean, this business is much more than a business or our job. It's our life, and has been ... Between my wife and I, we have 100 years of working in this building,” says Steve Davis, co-owner of Ardy & Ed’s Drive In.
Deep fryers empty, ice cream cones un-scooped – all because there aren’t enough workers to do the job.
“In 70 years, we've never been faced with having to close because we didn't have enough staff to staff the restaurant correctly,” Davis tells Action 2 News.
In the span of a few days, three employees quit the restaurant with little or no notice, cutting the number of staff members in half.
That’s when the business announced it would temporarily close its doors.
“It was probably, I would say, the toughest decision we've had to make in the years we've been here,” Davis tells Action 2 News.
Ardy & Ed’s stopped selling food Sunday evening, and only remained open for ice cream and fountain drinks. Since then, the restaurant hasn’t opened again.
The feedback from loyal customers has been emotional.
“The response has been pretty overwhelming, and pretty touching. Because we've always known we've had really good loyal customers, that have been pretty vocal in what they thought of us,” Davis says. “Kind of hard to talk about.”
According to the Wisconsin Restaurant Association, the industry saw $8.6 billion of revenue in 2017. That same year, 9 percent of Wisconsin residents found work in the restaurant field.
Still, the worker shortage is a trend seen in more than just Northeast Wisconsin.
“We have heard from restaurant operations all over the state that they're having trouble finding staff,” says Kristine Hillmer, President and CEO of Wisconsin Restaurant Association. “They're limiting their hours because of staffing issues. They're looking at which days they're open. They're looking at what their front of the house and the back of the house look like. And they're really struggling to find good, quality people.”
Back at Ardy & Ed’s, things are getting creative.
“There was a lot of interest by the public and things, in wanting to apply for a job and help us out,” Davis says.
That’s why he and wife Ardy held a job fair on Wednesday afternoon at the restaurant.
“We really thought maybe if we set aside a time and give people two, three hours that they can come in, and know we're really looking, and have a chance to talk to them a little bit, we'd be able to come up with enough good applications,” Davis explains.
Action 2 News crews saw a steady string of prospective employees visit the restaurant during the job fair, and apply on the spot.
“It really gave us some hope in putting that foot forward in being able to correct the situation,” Davis says.
Davis plans to re-open the restaurant on Thursday. Depending on staff, Ardy & Ed’s may only serve ice cream and fountain products.
If you’re interested in applying to work at Ardy & Ed’s Drive In, applications are available online or at the restaurant. Davis says future employees can drop off their applications any time the restaurant is open.