Charleston has become a world-class city, known for its hospitality and charm. The tourism renaissance began in the early 2000s and has carried on to today. Historical sites, first-class hotels and a burgeoning food scene puts Charleston at the top of national lists to visit. However, in order to sustain this level of accomplishment, many things have to go our way. And one of those things is affordable housing.
The food and hospitality industries are a large part of the economy and thriving success Charleston enjoys. Not only do people from all over the world come to dine in our restaurants, people from all over the world come to work in our restaurants. The experiences and opportunities are boundless for those looking to be a part of our culture.
That is not to say the work is not demanding, it is. The margins are very thin for some in our business. You need a lot to go your way to be successful or even survive as a business owner. You are reliant on strong economic conditions and a healthy tourism market. There is also mother nature you have to keep a steady eye on and hope storm season does not disturb the economy.
All that being said, the growing threat to our industry happens to not be these issues but the lack of affordable housing in our region. It is increasingly difficult to give staff the tools for success if they cannot afford to live here. Restaurant employees work long hours, have demanding shifts and should not be having to sacrifice more time in order to get the rest and relaxation they deserve.
Many do not last in our market because the cost of housing has risen to unsustainable price points. The turnover is high because our employees leave the Charleston area due to a lack of affordable housing. This high turnover puts restaurants in jeopardy and we are seeing more closures each day. A risk every restaurant and hotel has is the inability to keep stable staffing levels.
That is why being proactive about affordable housing and supporting ballot measures like Charleston County’s are important. This is a step to ensure everyone, from all walks of life, has access to affordable housing and will also support a large part of our local economy. For Charleston County residents, voting “Yes” on Questions 1 and 2 will not only help to make our housing market more stable, but also help to make our restaurant and hospitality industry more stable.
Mike Lata is chef/partner of FIG and The Ordinary restaurants. He is a James Beard Foundation Award-winning chef who works with local purveyors, famers, fishermen and employs hundreds of people between his restaurants.