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High demand for hospitality jobs as New Orleans festivals return

Klaskala says as tourism roars back, staffing is still a big issue, causing kitchens like his to rethink operations to meet demand.

NEW ORLEANS — With a whistle and an eye for perfection, Zoe McCoy Gonzales is one of the newest culinary team members at The Elysian Bar in the Marigny. 

“You can’t match the feeling that you get when you eat something delicious,” said McCoy Gonzales 

She landed the job three months ago, a position that came from a pivot.

“Like so many others I was really just questioning a lot about my life during the pandemic and what I valued,” said McCoy Gonzales. 

Value reconnected her with her seven-year-old self, flipping tortillas at home.  

“It was something I would always enjoy. I would come home from school and to unwind I would bake something,” said McCoy Gonzales. “I would create something beautiful and tasty and experiment with it.” 

A lifelong draw to the kitchen became the main ingredient for a journey into the hospitality industry, hit hard by the pandemic.  

“Absolutely I was worried,” said McCoy Gonzales.  

Graduating from the New Orleans Culinary and Hospitality Institute, she’s now part of a career-focused workforce slowly returning to bars, restaurants, and hotels.  

“It’s definitely a pleasant surprise when you do get the opportunity to interview somebody and you’re like, ‘Oh wow, they still exist.’ People still want to work in this industry,” said Elysian Bar Executive Chef Jonathan Klaskala. 

Klaskala says as tourism roars back, staffing is still a big issue, causing kitchens like his to rethink operations to meet demand. 

“Are we staffed for this influx of tourism, no, we’re not,” said Klaskala. “I like to think what we do is a very important part of people’s day-to-day lives and there’s a gap that needs to be filled.” 

“There is a really long way to go,” said the director of community engagement at NOCHI Remy Robert. “We hear every day from restaurants and hotel owners and caterers that it’s hard to keep up with that increased demand.” 

Robert says the pandemic shined a light on career paths in an industry now back in demand.  

“There’s a lot of enthusiasm and we’ve seen students from all walks of life,” said Robert.  

For McCoy Gonzales, a student turned cook and pastry chef, it’s been a walk well worth it, and she’s glad she took a chance.  

“I was saying to myself maybe this is kind of crazy to actually pursue this,” said McCoy Gonzales. “That being said, honestly, I think we came out stronger in the end because of the pandemic.” 

Since January 2020, 87 percent of students in the New Orleans Culinary and Hospitality Institute have been able to get financial assistance and there’s a 90 percent career placement rate.   

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