[image-1]For Louis Yuhasz, yesterday’s shooting at Virginia’s that left the executive chef dead feels all too familiar. The owner of hospitality recruitment firm, Yuhasz Staffing Solutions, clearly remembers the last time a disgruntled former employee attacked a manager at a Charleston restaurant. It was June 27, 2003, at the Boathouse restaurant on East Bay Street. There, former employee Christin Gilliard, in an attempted robbery, shot through the back door of the restaurant, killing his ex-boss, restaurant General Manager Patrick Ringwald.

“When this happened with Patrick, I addressed members of the Restaurant Association,” he says. Yuhasz’s talk focused on how to handle background checks, something that feels all the more relevant today in light of the Thurs., Aug. 24 shooting at Virginia’s restaurant, where a suspected disgruntled employee with a lengthy criminal record, shot and killed Chef Shane Whiddon. Bennett Hospitality has not confirmed whether it does background checks on employees. However, John Aquino, bartender at Coast, another Bennett Hospitality restaurant, told the Post & Courier in regards to the shooting, “You can’t do background checks on everybody, so sometimes you are stuck with what you can get. And then sometimes this happens.”

Between 2011 and 2015, 2,173 Americans were murdered in their workplace. More than 14 percent of those killings were carried out by current or former coworkers.
There were 417 workplace homicides reported across the United States in 2015, the most recent year for which figures are available. Of these more than 400 deaths, 354 were the result of shootings and 224 involved the victim dying at the hands of a current or former coworker of the victim.

So how many of these homicides occurred within the food and bev industry?
In 2015, just over 15 percent of workplace homicides struck those working in accommodations and food services, trailing just behind government workers, which accounted for 16 percent of total workplace homicides. Retail workers continue to be the most likely to murdered on the job in the United States, making up almost 24 percent of workplace homicides in 2015.

Among the 63 murders of accommodations and food service workers on the job in 2015, 23 were employed as cooks and servers. Over the five years leading up to 2016, 24 cooks and chefs were killed in their own restaurants.

“When I owned a staffing agency, you could send an employee — now this was 10 years ago — to the police station and have them print their background check and bring it to an interview,” says Yuhasz. Today, however, he says you legally have to make an offer to the potential candidate before running a criminal background check, but the cost of such checks run the gamut from $20 to the $58, what Yuhasz pays a Texas company called PSI.

[image-2]“My company introductions agency conducts full criminal, driving, and sexual background check of a salaried employee,” he says.

Other restaurants take different precautionary measures.

General Manager Mickey Bakst says his restaurant, Charleston Grill (incidentally where slain Chef Shane Whiddon got his start), runs background checks on all employees. On the other hand, Nick D’Allesandro, owner of D’Allessandro’s Pizza, uses a grapevine approach. “We have a weird system where we find out dirt on each other,” he says. The program isn’t fool proof, but he says when you work in an industry where you can often find yourself in desperate need of extra hands, sometimes there’s no time to check.
“In F&B, you’re in a bind and you want someone to fill a spot,” he says. “Hiring people is always a crap shoot. You don’t know what someone is going to give you. We have some people we hired and we treat them really well and they end up acting like the biggest pieces of crap in the world. Then you hire someone you think will be a shithead and they’re the best.”

For others, like Scott Shor, the owner of Edmund’s Oast, checking someone’s background can be as layered as researching the easily accessible (and free) arrest records online to hiring an HR firm to help. Shor has also been a business participant of Turning Leaf, a local nonprofit that helps men at high risk of incarceration avoid reoffending by using life skills training, and job placement assistance. A Turning Leaf graduate worked for at Edmund’s this past spring — the employee has since amicably moved on to another restaurant. Shor insists that a potential employee’s past offenses — even in light of yesterday’s events where a dishwasher with a long criminal record allegedly retaliated against his boss after being fired — will never be a outright disqualifier in getting hired at his restaurant.

“The tragedy that happened or reflected on people who previously served time, it’s just a tragedy,” Shor says. “I wouldn’t hesitate for a second to still employ someone from Turning Leaf.”

And given the restaurant staffing crisis in Charleston, deciding to hire a person with a criminal record might be less of an option and more of a necessity.

“The crisis itself opens your eyes for alternative possibilities for sourcing employees,” Shor says.