In-depth: COVID, classes, concretes

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Marianthe Meyer

Ted Drewes has faced hiring struggles due to COVID-19 and the return to school.

The noisy line wrapped around the brightly lit yellow building is a true sign of St. Louis summer. But the staff of high school employees during the current Ted Drewes season looks different than previous years. Health guidelines brought social distancing, masked employees and plastic shields to Ted Drewes on Chippewa. The Chippewa location has been open for 80 years. The local custard shop has faced staffing struggles recently, but not just because of COVID-19.

Travis Dillon, general manager and Ted Drewes’s son-in-law, said COVID-19 has changed how Ted Drewes evaluates who can come into work. Any sign of symptoms may result in an employee being asked to stay home, which means the shop may be temporarily short-staffed. According to St. Louis Public Radio, the city of St. Louis has invested millions of dollars to encourage youth employment during the COVID-19 recovery and combat understaffing.

“It’s obvious that what we’re experiencing in the short staffing is throughout most of the industries, at least the restaurant industry for sure,” Travis said. “We don’t want to get caught with too few people working when we open back up again next spring.”

Ted Drewes closes yearly for a month in the winter. They are open through the spring and summer for custard and sell Christmas trees in the fall and winter.

Ted Drewes has a history of hiring high school students to work flexible hours during the school year. Josh Dillon, hiring manager and one of Ted Drewes’s grandsons, said the better the high school employees are, the harder they are to keep.

What other position can you have at a place that’s popular in St. Louis [where] every time people walk away, they’re smiling.”

— Travis Dillon

“Parents want to focus more on their children getting a good education,” Josh said. “Education is taking priority over getting work experience for high school age students.”

Travis said colleges often like to see a student that can balance school and work. He said working at Ted Drewes can help high school students prepare for their future and save money for college.

“In the past, focusing on your education was first and working a job to learn the value of saving was also important,” Travis said. “It’s possible that the importance of trying to work while [going] to school has waned.”

Joseph Jimas, Affton High School senior and Ted Drewes employee, said he applied to five jobs last school year but was rejected because businesses were picky due to COVID-19. He has worked at Ted Drewes since February and enjoyed the social aspects with coworkers and customers.

“When we used to work outside to guide people, it was nice talking to them and getting to know people,” Jimas said. “Everyone’s different, so talking to every single person was fun.”

Ted Drewes has the usual social aspects of a service job, and Travis said it’s difficult because of Ted Drewes’s popularity, but it’s rewarding. He said any high school student is welcome to apply and set up an interview.

“[Working] at Ted Drewes means you won’t have a lot of time to stand around and get bored,” Travis said. “That’s the best part about the job because what other position can you have at a place that’s popular in St. Louis [where] every time people walk away, they’re smiling.”