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St. Louis restaurant owners eye loosening restrictions in Kansas City, Nashville

When Kansas City ends most restaurant restrictions Friday, the Mission Taco Joint will not return to full capacity because staffing continues to be a struggle

ST. LOUIS — Kansas City and Nashville are the latest cities to announce they're lifting pandemic restrictions on bars and restaurants, leaving only their indoor mask mandate in place. But St. Louis City and county aren't ready to follow suit.

Patrons filled Mission Taco Joint Tuesday for the lunch rush, but this Friday the brand will bring back another special.

"Our staffing level is good that we can do our late-night happy hour Friday and Saturday night starting this Friday, which is awesome," Adam Tilford said.

With locations across the state, Tilford said they won't open their Kansas City locations to full capacity Friday because staffing continues to be such a struggle. He says they're currently focused on retaining current staff by giving out $250 National Employee Day bonuses, raising the minimum wage for un-tipped positions to $15 and offering referral bonuses.

"We're putting our investment in our team and hoping that they're going to help us grow and bring in friends and people in the industry and say 'Hey it's a tough market out there, but Mission Taco is taking care of their people and you should come work here,'" Tilford said of the recruiting efforts.

At Tin Roof — which has 17 locations around the country including downtown St. Louis and Nashville — Assistant General Manager Stephanie Martin said the higher-ups have been giving extra attention to the Clark Avenue venue since it's one of the company's most heavily restricted locations. 

She said ongoing restrictions have "been a struggle, and it's still a struggle." But they have boosted weekend brunch to offset lost late-night revenue, which could total as much as a $10K difference on a Friday or Saturday night. And Martin says the profits from their two Florida locations are helping keep offset lower revenues in the rest of the company.

When asked what's holding St. Louis leaders from rolling back restrictions, 5 On Your Side was told in an email that the percent positivity for the City of St. Louis is at 8%, but CDC leaders recommend loosening restrictions only when the percent positivity rate drops below 5%. 

"We are also seeing a rise in positive cases in youth, which is concerning and shows the need to continue COVID-19 safety precautions. Parents are encouraged to have their children wear a mask when away from home, wash their hands frequently, and socially distance as much as possible at school or extracurricular activities," Department of Health Public Information Office Kim Vanden Berg added.

At Mission Taco, Tilford said they'll continue accepting applications, hoping they'll have enough staff in place when St. Louis allows for higher capacity.

"We'll set up interviews and maybe one of them will show," Tilford said. "Even if we hire them sometimes they're not showing up, so it's pretty difficult right now."

The changes go into place Friday in KC, and May 14 for Nashville.  

For a list of openings at Mission Taco Joint, click here.