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Denny's closes in Grand Forks

The Denny's restaurant in south Grand Forks closed on Jan. 29, and owner Ken Herslip said the struggle to keep enough workers drove him out of business after four years.

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The Denny's restaurant in south Grand Forks closed on Jan. 29, and owner Ken Herslip said the struggle to keep enough workers drove him out of business after four years.

Herslip, a Minot resident who also owns Buffalo Wild Wings in Minot and has restaurants in South Dakota and Montana, opened the Denny's at 3770 32nd Ave. S. in January 2008.

"It's just a tough market," Herslip said. "We struggled with employees from the day we opened."

Even so, Keith Reitmeier, Grand Forks Job Service manager, said the new eateries that recently came to Grand Forks have managed to hire staffs and open for business.

"It's competitive, that's for sure," he said. "But I will say we've had a couple recruiting events for restaurants in our building in the last three months, and they've been able to find workers."

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Statewide issue

Herslip said Grand Forks did not have enough available employees for Denny's to stay in business, a problem that he has never experienced with his restaurants in other cities.

"It's definitely isolated to Grand Forks," he said.

Reitmeier said Grand Forks County had 103 food preparation and food service job openings in January 2011. He said that amount represented a "normal amount of churn" within the industry.

But several new restaurants have opened in Grand Forks in the past year, including Five Guys Burgers and Fries, Fuji's Japanese Steakhouse and Seafood, Olive Garden, Pizza Ranch and Ruby Tuesday.

Reitmeier said there has been "quite an increase" in demand for restaurant employees in Grand Forks County. That increase can be seen in the industry's job openings, which shot up to 380 last November and 370 in December before dropping some to 241 in January.

The food service industry is now the county's No. 1 area for job openings.

But Reitmeier said the shortage of available workers in Grand Forks County is not isolated to restaurants, and the problem seems to be a statewide issue across many industries.

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Job Service North Dakota counted nearly 21,000 online job openings in the state last December, more than double from one year before. But with the state's low unemployment rate of 3.2 percent, that meant there was just 0.6 unemployed residents per job opening.

The same was true in Grand Forks County, which had less than one unemployed resident for each of the 2,044 job openings in December.

"With a lot of employment opportunities and not that many people unemployed here, it's a struggle for some employers to find the workers they need," Reitmeier said.

Johnson reports on local business. Reach him at (701) 780-1105; (800) 477-6572, ext. 105; or send email to rjohnson@gfherald.com .

Related Topics: FOODRESTAURANTS AND BARS
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