Folsom is in need of workers.
That’s why Vice Mayor Sarah Aquino took a part-time job last week. An elected official and full-time insurance broker can now be found busing tables at Back Bistro four days a week for minimum wage.
“I’ve been seeing a lot of help wanted signs on social media and around town, and noticed a lot of my favorite places to eat like Back Bistro have had to reduce their hours of operation,” Aquino said in an interview with The Bee. “And I’ve heard a lot of businesses say we don’t need you to send business our way, we need you to send employees our way.”
Aquino said she saw the owner of Back Bistro, Jeff Back, post on social media that the restaurant was in need of help.
“I gave him a call,” she said.
The move earned her national recognition last week when Fox News featured Aquino on its morning show, Fox and Friends.
But Aquino’s new job highlights a larger local issue: the desperate need for labor by many Folsom restaurants, hotels, and retail businesses.
Mary Ann McAlea, senior vice president of the Folsom Chamber of Commerce, said the labor shortage has caused many local businesses to reduce hours or services.
“Small contributions really make the difference,” she said. “Working a small amount of hours makes the difference between a business thriving and not and this is definitely a high priority for the chamber. Small businesses need to thrive because that’s the biggest indicator of the community doing well overall.”
Aquino said she works 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Thursdays through Saturdays and sometimes on Tuesdays when she doesn’t have a City Council meeting to attend. The schedule allows her to still do her full-time job and meet her other commitments, she said.
“It’s become part of my social life,” she said with a laugh.
She starts her shift by checking the reservations to see who is coming in that day. She helps out by seating guests and clearing tables. Though she had no prior restaurant experience, she said she’s been able to learn the ropes in a short amount of time.
“The reaction has been positive,” she said. “I’ve had people reaching out to me expressing interest in working.”
McAlea said the Folsom Chamber of Commerce launched a program called Our Community Works, which is billed as a “hyper-local solution to a national problem” to better connect residents with available job opportunities.
The goal, McAlea said, is to aggregate open positions at Folsom businesses - primarily in the retail, restaurant, and hospitality sectors - and use social media and email to connect those jobs with community members who are interested in picking up a part-time job.
“We want to create more awareness,” McAlea said. “Whether it’s a retiree or student, or someone who wants to work a small amount of hours. We want to think out of the box on how to keep businesses open and healthy until the labor market balances a bit.”
Businesses who are in need of staff can visit the Our Community Works to complete a form listing their staffing needs. The jobs will be included in a job board to be released in January.
“This should be a feel-good thing where you want to get out in your community and want to support a small business,” McAlea said. “It’s something very concrete that is needed.”