The incredibly serious state of the shortage of skilled workers will hit home in Michigan's Great Southwest in a few short weeks in a way likely never felt before. The inability to adequately staff her kitchens in Coloma has forced The Chocolate Garden owner and operator Tina Buck into an unprecedented "hiatus" period to "Rest and Reinvent."
October 1st will be the last day of operations at the popular chocolatier until she can find a way to resolve what has become her biggest challenge -- staffing a very labor-intensive kitchen sufficiently to keep up with the huge demand that the public has for her amazing products.
Here is what Tina is telling her fan base today:
After 20 years, we're taking a hiatus for some R&R: Rest and Reinvention.
Meeting demand for our handmade, very labor-intensive truffles has always been our biggest challenge. No matter how many people we hire, we just never seem to have enough hands. It is now harder than ever to find great employees to ensure that you get the best truffles and the best experience possible. So we’ve decided to go on hiatus and try to reinvent ourselves in a simpler, more manageable way. We don’t know what that will look like and we don’t know how long it will take. But we do know we won’t compromise our standards. We also know we can’t figure it out while working 12+ hours a day, 7 days a week, 361 days a year. Thanks for understanding and thanks for 20 wonder-filled years! We hope to see you again one day. October 1st, 2018 will be our last day before we hit “pause.”
Undoubtedly, the repercussions will be massive. Tina and The Chocolate Garden on Friday Road in Coloma have become an integral part of many celebrations, special occasions, holiday gatherings, and simple trips into personal decadence for people from around the world for two decades now.
She told me today, "You’ve heard me talk over the years about how hard it is to find great employees. It is now exponentially harder than ever, and I’m sure you have heard this from other employers as well. But for us, staffing has always been our biggest challenge. And the challenge for which I was least prepared. I thought the hard part was creating a product that people loved! Turns out, that was the easy part for us."
Tina tells me that as staffing became a more widespread problem, simply hiring more people didn't fix the issue, so she attempted to address the problem over the last several years by reducing her marketing, shortening the hours that the Friday Road store was open and even restricting the holiday orders they take in annually. She was largely successful in making those changes invisible to the customer-base, but she sadly has been forced to turn away more and more business every year. That's how special the demand has been for the incredible products that she created twenty years ago and expanded over the years.
What really grinds away for Tina is that even contemplating taking a hiatus, let alone actually putting one into effect runs totally contrary to her nature. She admits, "It's a wonder my head didn't explode!"
So, rather than continue down that path, or as Tina says, "More accurately, to continue to stay on this hamster wheel," she elected to employ a hiatus. Anybody who knows Tina Buck knows that she absolutely refuses to lower her standards in any way when it comes to either her product or the experience of visiting The Chocolate Garden.
Essentially, she will work to make it business as usual, "to the best of (our) abilities," through October 1st, and on the second, the hiatus begins. It will be a sad day for everyone who has ever sampled her wares, but if there is a viable solution that doesn't compromise her values and standards, she will be back. Stay tuned.