Since opening its doors nearly 13 years ago, Copper Blues Bar & Grill has become a premier restaurant in the popular Blue Mountain Village in Collingwood, Ont., serving hungry golfers and skiers especially during peak seasons. The price of popularity means bulking up at both the front and back of house to feed the swelling seasonal masses.
By Jane Auster
Photos by Dave West
The Copper Blues team encompasses several decades in the hospitality industry. Executive Chef Terry Prince alone boasts more than 40 years’ experience in the culinary arts, over a decade’s worth at Copper Blues. Finding just the right service professionals is key to the successful operation of this busy establishment.
Karii Lashambe, one of Copper Blues’ three partners, has become something of an expert in assessing and hiring for staffing needs since moving up to picturesque Collingwood from Toronto in 2002.
“I certainly do need to bulk up,” she says. “I have a well-established pool, having done this for 12 years, knowing my community and knowing who is available to help out.”
Her secret weapon? Local schools. “I have my core staff and try to build relationships with teachers and students who have a little flexibility in their schedules to fill in the blanks. I find my extra staff by getting to know the community and who is available and wants extra money.”
Karii hired her first teachers years ago, and word of mouth has provided a steady stream of academic types ever since.
“We definitely have more of a mature team,” she notes. “We’ve seen families grow with us, staff who start with us when they are students, continue with us when they begin their careers, come back when they’ve had their children, and continue to work here through their evolving years.”
During peak periods, Copper Blues employs some 35 workers at the front of the house and another 25 in the kitchen.
When she has specific fill-in needs, Karii often starts the search by asking her permanent staff for referrals, a strategy that pays dividends, especially in finding good servers. For other positions, like hostesses, she turns to her teachers to recommend some of their students.
“Essentially it allows me to trust that these are reliable people and also gives our staff a voice in who becomes part of our team,” she notes. “I hire 100 per cent of the time with longevity in mind. It’s more cost-effective to hire this way and it’s also important for guests to feel they know us. We are a family-run business.”
All training is individual, depending on the position being filled. But paramount is building a cohesive team where no one feels like a temporary employee. “I don’t hire people for one season, I expect them to come back season after season,” she stresses. I don’t hire fill-in staff; I hire part-time staff who work seasonally. There’s a big difference.”
Karii Lashombe’s top 3 seasonal hiring tips:
- Know your community and hire locally.
- Build long-term relationships to support all your staffing needs.
- Respect your team.