Stu Helm, Food Critic: There’s a scarcity of cooks in Asheville as food scene explodes


Stu Helm, Food Critic for Ashvegas and abroad, recently reported a disturbing trend on his Stu Helm: The Food Critic page on Facebook. In a conversation with Steven Goff, chef/owner of King James Public House on Charlotte Street, Goff noted a severe shortage of cooks in Asheville, which has garnered a national reputation for an amazing local food scene. (The latest example is that about 100 food bloggers are in town this week, exploring Asheville’s gastronomic delights.) Here’s what Stu reported:

There is a drought of cooks in this town.” – Steven Goff, Exec. Chef, King James Public House.

Steven and I had a very interesting conversation yesterday, during which he said that the food scene in this town is growing so fast that it’s nearly impossible to find qualified cooks to work in the kitchens of the existing restaurants, while in the meantime, new venues are opening constantly.

It seems like Asheville is suddenly a great place to come if you need a job. Whoa. I remember when the joke was that all the hippies moved here because they heard there was no work.

Tell your experienced cook friends from out of town and out of state that this could be a good town for them.

And more from Goff in the comments reflects just how tough it is to make a go of it in the restaurant business in Asheville:

And yes I have heard about the west coast cities that have been raising the bar to 18$ however it costs a lot more to live in those cities and I’m sure the menu prices now reflect. Cost has to get eaten somewhere and if you know anything about restaurants even a very successful one only has a 2-5% profit which doesn’t leave room for eating new costs. A new restaurant like mine just gets by even when it’s busy and all the owners are working 16 hour days.

So, what do you know about the shortage of kitchen staff in Asheville? And what’s the solution?


Hyatt Riot August 19, 2014 - 10:36 am

Yeah the restaurants can’t find cooks because they want to pay $8 an hour and anyway with half a skill set isn’t going to accept that kind of wage. Asheville is ridiculously expensive for locals and people trying to live here.

luther blissett August 19, 2014 - 1:57 pm

Perhaps Stu could parlay his chumminess with Asheville’s top chef/owners to find out what they’re willing to pay this influx of experienced kitchen staff?

There’s the price the market will bear on the menu, and the price the market will bear in terms of paying qualified cooks. For people already dealing with Asheville’s high cost of living (for the region) wages vs housing is more of a sunk cost: you’re here already, you know what you need for a living. For those coming from elsewhere, it’s up to the owners to make a compelling offer.

boatrocker August 19, 2014 - 7:17 pm

Oh my! A local who points out the elephant in the room! The (2 weeks per year) multiple home owning outta town tourists are fleeing for the hills as we speak for being recognized for snapping the fingers downtown for more breadsticks. Bow down to their dollars, proles.

Please, right wing shill ‘free market will decide’ types, this is the part where you tell us peasants to move outta town and get a real job!

Then you’ll have to let those undocumented groundskeepers go and (GASP!) mow your own yard and cook for yourselves! And ohhh the taxes!

Chris August 19, 2014 - 6:09 am

I think a lot stems from multimedia. Shows that some how give the industry a romantic view, or the whole celebrity thing. I know a lot of students who graduate from culinary school and want to step right in to head chef positions. The fact is you will have to work for so-so wages and be a grunt. In the end it is what you take away from it. I myself would not or could not think of anything else I would rather do. There are some days I want to light my hair on fire, but I am not designed to sit at a desk, I enjoy the physical and mental work of being and baker and pastry cook. I am 44 and still dont make great money, I cant remember the last time I went home for Thanksgiving or other holidays. This is my choice, we all have a choice. If you stay true to yourself and surround yourself with good people and mentors this business is a great one.

former restaurant slave August 19, 2014 - 10:42 am

Pastry was the only position I ever worked in a kitchen where I was treated with respect and didn’t want to shoot myself in the face on the daily. So different from the rest of the kitchen……

Nunya Beezwax August 19, 2014 - 5:00 am

I work at corporate sports bar because they’re willing to pay me a living wage. I’m currently a certified trainer, working towards becoming a kitchen manager. I’ve ran multiple independently-owned kitchens and have a passion for great-tasting food; but I’ve also been told by more than one independently-owned restaurant that I’m not worth $10/hr. Maybe I need to check my ego. Maybe I need to step my game up. Perhaps I should rework my resume?

Nunya Beezwax August 19, 2014 - 5:01 am

*work at a corporate sports bar..

Foothills Dweller August 19, 2014 - 5:08 pm

Jeez…how anyone is able to survive in Asheville is beyond me. Working at a factory sure wasn’t my dream, but even the people on the lines who inspect parts and mash a button every now and then make around $13/hr, with a full benefits package. They said you’re not worth $10? I think they just don’t want to pony up.

boatrocker August 19, 2014 - 7:48 pm

Perhaps working at a corporate bar is your first problem. Just saying.

Tired of local UNCA educated middle management cokehead dorks who don’t tip yet?

Big Al August 22, 2014 - 12:46 am

“UNCA educated” is an oxymoron.

Kelly Prime August 18, 2014 - 6:51 pm

It is very hard to own a business in this state. I personally know of many restaurant owners who want to pay more, but they just can’t stay afloat if they did. That being said, Asheville has more Living Wage Certified businesses than any other city in the nation! I will continue to scream it from the rooftops…If you want to support local businesses, the local workforce and have a vibrant local economy then shop at a Living Wage Certified business!! If you are a business owner, please look into getting your business certified through JustEconomics Wnc. It’s the #1 thing you can do on a daily basis to contribute to a more sustainable local economy!

boatrocker August 18, 2014 - 5:51 pm

I think cwaster and Mike covered it very well. I’m not sure what to think about Goff’s comments “and yes I have heard about the west coast cities that have been raising the bar to $18…” I’m assuming he means $18 /hr?

The tone seems a bit ‘methinks he doth protest too much’ by preemptively apologizing for not being able to pay that much in a city with the biggest wage/rate of inflation disparity in NC.

Chances are the few cooks that do get cooking jobs probably can’t afford to try all the amazing new restaurants around town.

cwaster August 18, 2014 - 12:37 pm

Having been a chef and line cook in several local establishments at one time and having many friends that are or were also, I can tell you why in my personal opinion. The wages are not good, no vacation time, no benefits of any kind, no insurance, no sick days, and a schedule that is never the same from week to week. Plus the all-too-common jerk kitchen manager. I’m glad I got out.

Mike August 18, 2014 - 1:11 pm

yeah, I’m not a chef, not even close, but it doesn’t seem like an attractive profession for me, mainly the hours and pay….

A good friend of mine is a chef, and my son was telling him he wanted to be a chef ‘when he grew up’ his reply: Don’t do it! Horrible hours, working nights/weekends and most Holidays. Very hard for anyone with a family or more than just immediate financial requirements.

cwaster August 19, 2014 - 10:16 am

I forgot about this part, that in the winter when tourism drops saround here so do your hours. And if it snows, you may not work at all. In both cases you just lose the wages…

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