Staffing a restaurant kitchen can already feel like a Sisyphean service-industry task, and if you happen to be trying in a state that also boasts a burgeoning weed industry, well, godspeed: According to a new report in the Denver Post, the market for legal pot — now worth about $10 billion annually — has left the marijuana industry flush with cash in ways no restaurateur will ever be. So, even as restaurant-world leaders make controversial business-model changes to ensure entry-level cooks pocket $11 an hour, grow houses in states like Colorado offer relaxed gigs “in nature” that can pay double without having to work in a 90-degree windowless room into the wee hours getting yelled at by a chef de partie.
Colorado has lots of new restaurants — 2017’s sales were $12 billion, one of the highest year-over-year increases in the country — and a recent report predicts the service industry should see considerable growth in the next decade. Yet restaurant owners say they still can’t fill job openings. “We go months trying to fill a position,” the chef-owner of several popular Denver restaurants tells the Post. “It’s always been bad, but then they legalized marijuana and it got real bad. There’s no way we can pay what they’re paying.”
Apparently Colorado’s available data on job attrition can’t quantify this problem, but chefs on the ground argue they’re pretty sure the shortfalls are at least partly tied to pot. Bud trimmers in grow houses start at the average cooks’ wage ($12 an hour), and if they’re good, a $15 or $20 hourly wage is completely realistic, plus, as another big Denver restaurateur, Peter Karpinski, tells the paper, you get to “sit in a nice comfortable chair in an air-conditioned space with headphones on.”