Closure of Smokin ‘Joe’s in Olathe due to staff and food costs

OLATHE, Kan. – Olathe loses a basic barbecue restaurant that caught customers off guard with its abrupt closure.

Smokin ‘Joe’s Bar-BQ & Catering has been a mainstay of the Santa Fe Strip since the late’ 80s, but the owner has said for a variety of reasons she calls him to quit.

Smokin ‘Joe owner Rhonda Lorenz said in a Facebook post that the restaurant couldn’t find employees. It’s a familiar refrain to many business owners and politicians for some time now, as they describe a labor shortage, often blaming it on federal unemployment benefits.

However, this is far from the full story.

According to the most recent Kansas Department of Labor report, the state’s unemployment rate is currently around 3.5%. It is extremely low. This means that in some cases people looking for a job can be picky.

There are various reasons for the tightness of the labor market beyond unemployment benefits, said Keely Schneider, executive director of Workforce Partnership in Johnson County.

“Even if we had all of the unemployed prepared, ready and had the exact experience and skills to fill all the possible jobs, we would still have a shortage,” Schneider said.

“We forget that as a country and as a region our rate of participation in work – so these are the people who are able to work, eligible to work, but who for some reason chose not to work – this rate has declined over many years, ”said Schneider.

Rising childcare and transportation costs are also seen as a factor for potential employees when deciding whether or not to find a job.

“And so until those benefits expire, you might see some of these people making the decision that with my kids at home for the summer, it’s a lot easier to say here. But childcare has been a real challenge during the pandemic, ”said Schneider.

Smokin ‘Joe’s customers are friendly.

“I’ve seen a lot of things happen here unfortunately, but like I said the food is always consistent. I was mouth watering coming here because the ham sandwich is… I’m a ham sandwich but anyway. God is tough, ”said Doug Acthley, a regular customer.

On Friday, the Kansas Department of Labor will begin denying benefits to people who are not registered on the new KansasWorks system. Anyone who has experienced three consecutive weeks of unemployment must submit a resume and job search plan form under this system.

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