A Detroit Restaurant Manager Finds a New Job at a Grocery Store During the Pandemic
In March, Christopher Dybash, A food and beverage manager in the Apparatus Room in downtown Detroit was abruptly fired from his job. Dybash had worked in the restaurant at the Tony Boutique Detroit Foundation Hotel since 2018, just down the street from the TCF Center. “I’ve been someone who has worked consistently my entire life, so it was a harrowing situation for me to essentially lose my job indefinitely,” he says. It took Dybash a week to mourn the loss of his job before attempting to find work in one of the few places still hiring workers during the pandemic: the grocery store.
Today he is one of an unknown number of food service employees who have moved from the restaurant world to grocery stores. Grocery stores and other grocery-delivering establishments are considered essential services under the Michigan Stay at Home Order. However, working in these stores also puts workers at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19. Every day, grocers have to choose between being healthy and making a paycheck. Many are uninsured in their workplaces, and the stores offer little, if any, risk payment.
Dybash is an employee at Plum Market, where he does a variety of tasks, from collecting and disinfecting carts to checking out customers. He decided to look for work after being admitted to unemployment and realizing that it would not be enough to cover his monthly expenses. (The minimum amount of state aid has increased since then, although many unemployed residents are still waiting for their checks.) A week after the dine-in service ended on March 16, Dybash was hired at the store in West Bloomfield.
The Detroit Foundation Hotel and Apparatus Room, a restaurant that Christopher Dybash has been working at since June 2018, have been closed indefinitely due to the coronavirus pandemic. Michelle and Chris Gerard
In a way, for Dybash, when you work in the store, things come full circle. At the age of 14 he got his first job packing groceries for a Farmer Jack, a market chain that has since closed. “23 years later, I’m packing groceries here at the plum market,” he says.
Dybash believes his employer, Plum Market, handled security relatively well, noting that the company appears to be implementing stricter guidelines immediately before or in conjunction with state executive regulations. “You literally have three people who are only supposed to collect carts, one person to disinfect carts and one person who is literally stationed where you pick up carts … and they say they are 100 percent refurbished [to customers]”he says. The store has also installed plexiglass shields on the cash registers.
While a recent executive order clarified what type of protective equipment should be provided to grocery store employees in Michigan, Dybash says the store he works in has been good at providing gloves and hand sanitizer to employees and guests . Most customers understand when it comes to new shopping rules, such as the suspension of bottle returns.
His views on how people shop have also changed. Before, he might have rolled his eyes when a buyer pushed a cart overloaded with groceries. But now he’s grateful that people take their shopping sprees seriously rather than stopping by stores for an item or two.
Even if he works at a responsible social distance, going to the store makes him anxious. “Not only do you analyze everyone who comes up to you, but everything that happens in your body,” he says. “When I wake up and my throat is sore, is my throat sore because of my sinuses and allergies, or is it because I was exposed?” Dybash’s store was among those taking additional action under Oakland County’s rules to screen key workers for symptoms. When employees go to work, they have to answer questions in a survey and have their temperatures measured. Dybash was asked to stay home for a week, which he called symptoms of food poisoning.
Dybash thinks he’s one of the lucky ones. Unlike many of his employees, he will receive medical care through his previous employer, the Aparium Hotel Group, through July, and he has some modest savings to help him and his husband get through a short-term financial crisis. The nationwide rescue operation has also ensured safety. Dybash says many of his employees are being forced to supplement their income by working for gig economy services like Instacart.
Dybash wonders what will happen to his former restaurant job and the Detroit food industry if companies are allowed to reopen under socially distant rules. Michelle and Chris Gerard
But he wonders when and if things could ever return to normal for him and the hotel industry. The Detroit Foundation Hotel where he worked is closed. Almost every major event of the year – from the Movement Electronic Music Festival to the huge North American International Auto Show – has been canceled or postponed. The convention center across the street, which used to draw large numbers of customers to the Apparate Room, is now home to a temporary hospital for COVID-19 patients. “I would like to say,” Hey, I’ll be back to work in July, “he says.” Then at the same time I look back to the beginning of March and never would have thought that we would be in the position we are currently in. ”
Recently management made him responsible for guest services, where he spends the day answering calls from affected customers. He asks the questions one would expect of anyone familiarizing themselves with this new era of grocery shopping: do you offer roadside pickup? Do you have toilet paper in stock? Dybash finds it easy to answer the standard questions. “My favorite question so far has been, ‘Do you sell grapefruits?'”
• Michigan’s Executive Order describes how restaurants and grocery stores should operate during the pandemic [ED]
• Governor Whitmer Extends Michigan’s Home Stay and New Rules for Grocery Stores [ED]
• How you can help Detroit’s restaurant and bar workers through the novel coronavirus crisis [ED]
• How coronavirus is affecting the food and beverage industry in Detroit [ED]
• All groceries and retail coverage [E]
• All coronavirus coverage [E]
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