Staffers Meet Gigster
The dishwasher doesn’t show up for a shift, and the dishes are piling up in the sink. The restaurant makes a few phone calls, but no luck. So who’s left washing the dishes? It’s the rest of the kitchen staff, now with twice the workload, but no extra pay.
That’s what happened to Charleston chef Ben Ellsworth in 2018 while working at The Royal American downtown. Staring at a pile of dishes that had now become his problem, he got a notification from Airbnb telling him someone had booked a room he listed.
“I wish they had booked to wash these dishes instead,” Ellsworth recalled thinking to himself.
And that’s when the concept behind GigPro was born. Ellsworth called up former Charleston chef Sean Brock with the idea, and he was all in.
GigPro launched its first release last year, but has retooled in the last few months and relaunched Nov. 20 in Charleston. The platform connects restaurants and employees looking for extra shifts, allowing establishments to efficiently staff up when in need of temporary help on-demand.
“Sunday (ahead of launch), I was scrubbing pots and pans right back where I started when I was 15,” Brock told the City Paper last week. “If GigPro existed, I wouldn’t have been doing that.”
Brock built his career in Charleston, earning acclaim for his work as a partner with The Neighborhood Dining group at restaurants like Husk, McCrady’s and Minero. The two-time James Beard Award-winning chef, who ended his tenure with the group’s restaurants in 2018 before moving on to open multiple new projects in Nashville, got to know Ellsworth during his time in the Lowcountry.
“We just started jamming on (the idea in 2018) and it felt very natural and very organic,” Ellsworth said of working with Brock. “And we just took off. We took action.”
“It was one of those ideas where you say, ‘I can’t believe this doesn’t exist,’” Brock said. “It’s interesting how the idea started in 2018, and the universe decided that right now is the time for it to go full blast.”
Gone are the days when the restaurant industry had to turn people away and food was ready-to-cook at a moment’s notice. Ellsworth said his experience a decade ago at 39 Rue de Jean was a much different experience than today.
“It was like the pioneer restaurant — everyone wanted to work there. We [had to] turn people away,” he said. “If you walked into our walk-in, the onions were peeled, the carrots were peeled, the lettuce was washed. If you wanted it, it was there.”
GigPro’s launch comes at a time when restaurants still need help to survive the pandemic, Brock said.
“It’s much needed, especially now with how our lives are changing so much. It couldn’t be a more perfect moment in my opinion because we’ve all sort of hit this phase of restarting and resetting with the expectation that things are going to be different,” he said. “This is a moment in the restaurant world where breaking even is considered success. Those pennies and dollars matter, and that’s another reason why I think this is happening at just the right moment.”
After originally launching the platform in November 2019 as a website called SideGig, the business partners shifted gears, rebranding it as GigPro before temporarily taking it offline this summer to make it more scalable, Ellsworth said.
“To keep it in restaurant lingo, we launched with a food truck, but we knew everyone in Charleston and beyond needed this solution,” he said. “We knew the business model was still sound, and we had to build a platform that was scalable. So, instead of being a food truck that can serve a couple hundred people comfortably, we’ll be able to serve a couple hundred thousand people comfortably and can go into different markets.”
This meant adding new features and creating a free mobile app where employees looking for work can sign up simply by pulling out their phones. For now, restaurants will still be on the web-based application at gigpro.com, but the mobile app will be available for them in the future, Ellsworth and Brock said.
Here’s how GigPro works: Staffers post gigs as needed, and the app sends instant notifications to qualified Gigsters. Gigsters apply to be considered. Staffers choose an interested Gigster. From there, the Gigster simply shows up for work.
To sign up, workers add their work experience, contact and payment information. Workers and employers pay a small fee once the job is completed, and Gigsters are charged $0.38 per hour to cover occupational accident insurance. Any necessary forms and payment processing are also handled through the app.
For workers, the app allows them to control their availability and make extra money on the side without the commitment of a full-time position.
For staffers, it connects restaurants with members of the community who want to work, while allowing them to control costs, support for their full-time staff and offer an extra set of hands for a shift.
“If you’re understaffed, you are stretching your staff super thin,” Ellsworth said. “And I’ve been in that world for decades, and you hate to do it.”
The biggest change to GigPro since the mobile app’s Nov. 20 launch was the addition of reviews and ratings, allowing restaurants to get a better sense of the employee they’re hiring and helping workers choose the right role. If an employee fails to show up for a shift, that information is made public on his or her profile.
GigPro is currently available in the Apple App Store or at gigpro.com for restaurants and industry workers in Charleston. The app will land in Nashville on Dec. 1 and will expand to other markets in 2021, Ellsworth and Brock said.