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Acclaimed restaurant kept its bar closed amid staffing issues. It's now opening anyway.

"We still have staffing issues," Connoley said. "But at some point, you just got to open and trust that we'll be able to get the staff in place to pull it off."
Credit: Bulrush via St. Louis Business Journal

ST. LOUIS — Since December, staffing shortages have prompted Rob Connoley to keep shuttered about half the space in his acclaimed Midtown restaurant, Bulrush STL.

But last week, Connoley opened the bar space — part of a program offering intimate cocktail experiences — even without proper staffing available.

"We still have staffing issues," Connoley said. "But at some point, you just got to open and trust that we'll be able to get the staff in place to pull it off."

The move is important for Connoley.

Before the pandemic, the eatery's bar accounted for 30% of annual revenue, he said. The restaurant, which serves Ozark cuisine and got a boost this year when Connoley was named a semifinalist for a prestigious James Beard award, opened in 2019 at 3307 Washington Ave.

Revenue this year should get a corresponding 30% boost after opening the bar, where bartenders and staff will tell the story of 19th Century Ozark cuisine via cocktails, relying on archived bar inventories and preserved literature, rather than food, Connoley said. Reservations aren't required.

Still, the restaurant has just one part-time and five-full time employees, he said, adding that four additional staff — half full-time — are needed.

With the sales growth, Connoley said he'll be able to keep wages competitive.

Currently, all employees start at $15 an hour. But after three years in business, Connoley said he now knows his staff make anywhere from $25 to $28 an hour, including tips. Benefits include 75% health care coverage until one year of employment. After a year, that extends to full coverage. Paid time off totals three and a half weeks a year.

Read the full story on the St. Louis Business Journal website.

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