In Lean Times, A Restaurant Can't Be Saved

Across the nation, many eateries are struggling just to stay open, including CBS News visited two months ago in Elkhart, Ind., that back then was telling its workers to look for other jobs. How are they dong today? CBS News correspondent Seth Doane went back to see as he continues our series, "The Other America."



Back in October, when Doane initially reported on the restaurant, one of the owners, Gene Meert, said: "We really are trying to hang on here for the employees - but it's not going to make it."

Since then, the Meert family, who's owned the restaurant and catering business for 14 years, has almost depleted their personal savings to make payroll - that's almost $3,000 a week.

"Two weeks," Gene Meert said. "We just can't go on."

Pat Andrews, the day cook, has been looking for work since the CBS News crew left the restaurant more than a month ago.

"There isn't anything in here - and I'm not going to be a gentlemen's club hire dancer either," she said.

Every morning she scans the classifieds in vain. Nationwide, more than 180,000 full-service restaurant workers have lost their jobs since July.

"When you go in to apply - what do they say?" Doane asked.

"They say they're not hiring right now because business is slow," Andrews said.

That's the story across Elkhart, where layoffs in the once-dominant RV industry have produced unemployment rates that top 12 percent.

Waitress Janet Adams' husband lost his RV job earlier this year.

"I figure if I don't find something soon, maybe I'll just enroll in some college courses and take some college classes while it's down," Adams said. "And maybe once the economy picks up, I'll have an associates or something and do something better."

Adams has thought of studying business so she could open her own bakery. Grants and loans could help her pay the $5,000 a year tuition at a local college. For now, though, she's making the most of what her family has: being with her family during the holidays.

Brandon Williams, who keeps horses, has been looking for work the longest.

"It's not real expensive to keep them fed - it's just something else that adds to the ongoing bills," he said about them. "I've lost a couple of days and even the days that I work the business just hasn't been there. So I really haven't been making the money that I need."

He has thought about leaving home, and his horses, to find work. A good bet could be the states with the lowest unemployment, North and South Dakota, Utah, Wyoming and Nebraska.

Read the initial report about the Dakota Restaurant.
Read more of Seth Doane's reporting on the Dakota at Couric & Co. blog.
How was it to let go?

"Bittersweet," Glenn Meert, one of the Dakota's owners, said. "That's the only way I can say it."

He's leaving town to take a new job, like the roughly 3 million people who moved for work last year.

"I will be over a food service facility in a correction facility - recession-proof business - there are always going to be jails," Meert said.

He's relocating to Cincinnati, and hoping he can sell his house here.

He also hopes his "restaurant family" will find work soon.

The owners of the Dakota say they probably won't make it until the end of the year.
  • Seth Doane

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