Why the Hen House in Pueblo West is struggling even as COVID-19 restrictions have loosened

Alexis Smith, The Pueblo Chieftain, Colo.
·3 min read

May 5—The Hen House Cafe, a 17-year-old Pueblo West business will not be open this Mother's Day because the restaurant is still facing hardship from the COVID-19 pandemic's toll on the restaurant.

"The number one effect, now that we are getting back to normal is I can't hire anyone," owner Robin Belding said. "Nobody wants a job. Unemployment has extended until September, and they are getting $300 a week so a lot of your part-time people can make more money staying home."

Belding said the unemployment issue has caused her and her staff to work shorthanded every shift of every day. But it has also caused a trickle-down effect that the restaurant, like many others, battles in every facet of its business.

"Every part of our business is affected by COVID and the lack of employees in every part of this industry," Belding said. "I can't get some of my food supplies in because they don't have workers in the meat processing plant like they did before."

Belding added that three times in just the past week the restaurant has run out of chicken. After placing an order, she rarely receives her order in full or the order is pushed back, and she doesn't know when it will be filled.

Belding said that when this happens she's had to scour the town looking for meat to complete the orders for her restaurant.

This problem is only furthered, Belding said, because the number of takeout orders it sees has tripled.

"Takeout business has been extremely good, it's been a little difficult to manage it all, but we are getting it done," Belding said. "But I also can't get takeout containers. They can't produce them in the factories because they cannot hire people either. There's not any facet that has not been touched by COVID."

Each of these obstacles have contributed to the decision not to open on Mother's Day — one of the most successful business days for restaurants.

"I don't feel that I can comfortably or successfully serve my customers if I don't have staff to do the job," Belding said. "It's been tough across the industry. Every time I talk to somebody they say, 'So and so is having a hard time getting people hired.'"

As of now, Belding said, the restaurant is still doing well business-wise, but she is looking to hire four employees because even at only 50% capacity, those employees she does have are strained.

"Financially we're doing OK," Belding said. "It's tight but we are managing to pay our bills and employees. I just can't get enough of them. I do not have enough staff to fill all the positions to do everything we need to because of COVID — we feel like we're operating at 50% capacity and doing twice the work with less employees."

Ultimately, Belding said, she hopes that people in the community will see this issue with perspective.

"It's a ripple effect," Belding said. "If you drop a stone in water, it doesn't just affect that one area. It keeps getting bigger. I don't have as many customers as I used to, then I have more customers than I can take care of because I don't have the staff, then I can't get food. We're stuck in COVID and we can't do any more than what we are."

The Hen House is still operating under normal hours, 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sunday.

Chieftain and Pueblo West View reporter Alexis Smith can be reached by email at asmith@chieftain.com or on Twitter @smith_alexis27.