McClellan's Pub navigates food shortages, staffing issues and Karens amid ongoing pandemic
A year later, Alive catches up with pub co-owner Amy Schirtzinger, who talks about the personal toll of the pandemic and why she still feels lucky to be running a restaurant
Last January, the staff at McClellan’s Pub in northwest Columbus was still trying to adjust to the ever-changing eating behaviors of customers during the pandemic.
“It's a constant trial and error. People are eating different things. People are drinking different things. Our best-sellers before aren't selling at all right now,” said Amy Schirtzinger, who co-owns the bar and restaurant with Brent McClellan, in early 2021.
A year later, the only constant is change. “At the beginning of the pandemic and through that first year, [customers] just wanted some comfort food, so I couldn't sell salads or hummus or anything that was healthy,” Schirtzinger said last week. “They're starting to want some different options now. The problem is, our lettuce that's been showing up hasn't been great. And I've seen that anywhere I go, too. The produce is not quite there, but the demand for it has definitely increased.”
While the pandemic has forced McClellan’s to continually adapt, particularly amid Ohio’s recent record-breaking surge of COVID cases due to the omicron variant, Schirtzinger said the broken supply chain is the pub’s greatest challenge.
“Every single week I put a food order in with my main food company, and I get an immediate call on all of the things that won't be showing up. And then once the truck gets here, there are more things that don't make the truck,” Schirtzinger said. “The produce is showing up half rotten, and I know that it's not just my food company. I'm reaching out to others, too, to see if they have products, and they don't.”
Normally, Schirtzinger said McClellan’s could purchase a case of jumbo chicken wings for $47 or $57, but recently a case cost $157. And in the beginning of the pandemic, seafood was sometimes cheaper than beef or chicken due to meat shortages, but now the price of crab has skyrocketed and forced the pub to take its popular crab cakes off the menu. “A case of crab cakes at one point was coming in at $450, and that's six cans of crab,” Schirtzinger said. “That doesn't make any financial sense.”
With constantly shifting menus and a limited supply of ingredients, the staff has become used to informing customers that certain items aren’t available. Some take it well; others do not. “We're still seeing the same two types of people. There are the Karens of the world, who are just getting more Karen-y, and there's the really great customers, and they've been awesome,” Schirtzinger said. “Whatever kind of customer you were before, it's just amplified a little bit. Most of our customers are really understanding.”
Schirtzinger hasn’t seen a dip in customers since omicron began hitting Ohio, but McClellan’s is still missing some of its typical happy hour crowd, likely because many employees in the area are still working from home. The pub’s busy hours are also earlier in the evening than they were in pre-pandemic days.
The service industry has been hit particularly hard by staffing shortages, and McClellan’s is no exception. Many of the pub’s loyal, longtime staffers also work 9-to-5 jobs elsewhere, but those other employers are also experiencing worker shortages, which then pushes hours past 5 p.m. or requires weekend hours, cutting into the time they’d normally be working at the pub.
And hiring new workers continues to be a struggle. “We're getting a lot of applicants, but not serious applicants. They will show up for maybe a shift and then not come back, or they won't come to the interviews they schedule,” Schirtzinger said.
The supply chain issues and staffing challenges, not to mention the constant vigilance and precautions required to keep workers and customers safe from a highly transmissible virus, have taken a toll on Schirtzinger. “I was really stressed-out last year. Right after we talked in January, I actually had a stroke,” she said. “There were issues for about three months.”
The health scare led Schirtzinger to reassess the work-life balance for herself and her staff. “This industry is a really resilient industry, and we've always worked really, really hard our entire lives. I think we're starting to realize now that you can only really do that kind of lifestyle for so long. So, striking a balance is something that we've noticed the past couple of years that needs to be a priority,” said Schirtzinger, who decided over the summer to close the pub on Sundays to give the staff a weekly break (except, of course, during Liverpool FC soccer matches that fall on a Sunday; McClellan’s is home to many Liverpool fans in Central Ohio.)
Despite all the struggles and setbacks, Schirtzinger is bullish about McClellan’s and the restaurant business as a whole. "I love this industry. I feel like I'm made for this industry,” she said. “It's not for everybody, but I'm one of the lucky people that get to enjoy it. I'm living, quite literally, my dream. There have been some extra challenges, but I'm not giving up any time soon.”