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Why one city’s vice mayor got a second gig waiting tables

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The vice mayor of Folsom, California, has taken on a side hustle at a local restaurant — but she’s not doing it for the money. Rather, it’s to help relieve a severe labor shortage in the area and, perhaps more important, to serve as a role model she hopes other residents of the city will emulate as businesses seek workers.

“I decided to lead by example,” Sarah Aquino told CBS MoneyWatch. 

Aquino, who along with serving as Folsom’s vice mayor also sells life and health insurance, said that being self-employed gives her enough flexibility to take on yet another job. So for two weeks now she’s been hosting guests as well as waiting and clearing tables at Folsom’s Back Bistro, owned by husband and wife Jeff and Gail Back. 

Aquino is logging about 12 hours per week and has insisted on only earning minimum wage  — $14 an hour — despite the restaurant offering a higher hourly rate. She’s also declining tips. 

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Aquino is partnering with the local chamber of commerce to encourage anyone with spare time — parents whose kids are back in school, students, retirees — to hep bridge the labor gap.

“I saw a Facebook post that said they were desperate for hosts and buspeople. I told them I had no restaurant experience, but I am a hard worker and fast learner and if you’re willing to hire and train me, I will commit to work for up to 20 hours a week for six months,” Aquino said. 

Restaurants need help

The restaurant industry in particular is grappling with nationwide staffing shortages as many workers leave the industry, citing low pay and risk from COVID-19. Some restaurants have closed, while others have cut back on their opening hours. Restaurants’ food and labor costs are also rising as inflation climbs, eating into their notoriously thin profit margins. 

Aquino said she enjoys the work, in part because it lets her spend part of the day on her feet when she would normally be seated. But the main goal is to inspire others to help local businesses and the local community, which like all modest-sized cities relies on the sales tax employers generate to fund essential services.

“When businesses have to reduce their house and incomes, it affects the city,” Aquino said. 

Although Folsom, with a population of roughly 80,000, has a number of larger employers with many remote workers, it is smaller companies — whose hourly workers can’t do their jobs from home —that really need the help, she added. 

“We are understaffed”

Jeff Back, the co-owner of Back Bistro, said they could still use about eight new employees. 

“We are understaffed, and it limits us from doing extra catering events or being more creative on our menu. We just have to sustain what we are doing,” Back told CBS MoneyWatch. 

“Sarah is definitely helping us in the short term while we look to fill a full-time management position,” he added. 

Her help is key this time of year, when the restaurant counts on holiday crowds to make up for slower months at other times. 

“We make money in December and lose money other months of the year, so we need people right now in order to book private events. This is prime time,” Back said. “Her commitment gets us through the winter season, hopefully until the restaurant industry is back up and running next spring.” 

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