Worker shortage leads to temporary closure of one of Lawrence’s Dairy Queen locations; coffee shop also unexpectedly closed

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

The Dairy Queen at 1835 Massachusetts St. is pictured on June 8, 2022.

I’m always on the lookout for a summer Blizzard in Lawrence. No, not the snowstorms. The frozen treat from Dairy Queen. (There is a lot less shovel work, unless you get the extra, extra large.) Now, I have half as many locations to find one. A labor shortage has temporarily shut down one of the city’s two Dairy Queens.

The Dairy Queen at 1835 Massachusetts St. recently closed, and its owner/operator told me he’s not sure when it will reopen. That’s because he’s not sure when he’ll find enough people who want to work at the restaurant.

“I probably need 20 to 25 crew members, minimum,” said Steve Walter, owner/operator of the two Dairy Queen locations in Lawrence and another one in Eudora.

Walter has been in the business for more than 25 years, and his family for even longer, and he said the labor shortage is the worst he’s encountered.

“I’ve never seen it like this,” Walter said.

Last month Walter made the decision to close the Massachusetts Street store, while keeping open his store on south Iowa Street and the one in Eudora. Employees at the Massachusetts Street store were transferred to one of the other two stores.

“I didn’t have enough employees to run that Massachusetts Street store the way it needs to be run this time of year,” he said. “We were operating at capacity. There were times we were having to close down the lobby. I didn’t feel like it was the right way to run the business.”

Walter does believe the Massachusetts Street store will reopen.

“I’m confident that it will, but it is just a matter of how quickly,” Walter said. “That is the dilemma I’m in.”

Walter feels like it is a dilemma multiple other businesses are facing or soon will. He said the labor market today is night-and-day different than it was before the pandemic.

“The workforce changed,” Walter said. “People can draw their own conclusions and come up with their own equations about what that entails. But I think it is our entire country. I don’t think it is just Dairy Queen or the quick service industry.”

National reports of fast-food restaurants struggling to find enough staff have been frequent for months. Reports of some chains increasing pay also have emerged. McDonald’s made news last summer when it announced pay raises at its corporate-owned stores, and projected that the average wage for McDonald’s restaurant workers would increase to $15 per hour, a little more than twice the national minimum wage, by 2024.

The Lawrence Dairy Queen is advertising jobs from $10 to $15 an hour, according to online job postings.

“I need to restaff the whole dang thing,” Walter said of the Massachusetts Street restaurant, saying there were a variety of jobs available.

There certainly have been some other closings in Lawrence’s food scene that have been rumored to be related to staffing shortages. The one that I’ve been trying to run down recently has been Alchemy Coffee.

The coffee shop’s downtown location at 816 Massachusetts has been closed for a while now, but the company hasn’t made any announcements on social media or otherwise that it is permanently out of business. Its front door is plastered with a couple of flyers advertising that it is hiring for servers and wait staff. The company already was operating on a four-day work week — open Thursday through Sunday — before this recent closure, according to a message on its answering machine.

I’ve reached out to the owners of the shop to try to get more details about what’s in store for the coffee shop, which dates back to 2013 but moved from south Massachusetts Street into downtown about five years ago. I’ll let you know if I hear new details about the shop’s future.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

Alchemy Coffee at 816 Massachusetts Street is pictured on June 9, 2022.

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