More than 1 in 10 jobs in Kitchener are food-related — and the industry is still growing
A new report quantified the city’s booming scene for the first time.
Danya Henninger / Billy Penn
November 20, 2019, 10:30 a.m.
The food in Kitchener is great. It’s no secret, but for the first time in history we know how big it is.
Nearly 80,000 people are currently employed in a grocery occupation, according to a new report, making up 12% of Kitchener’s total workforce. This means that more than one in ten employed Kitchenerns is in the food industry.
The information comes from a year-long project by the Department of Health and the Economy League to quantify the restaurant industry’s growing contribution to the Kitchener landscape.
It confirms what the people here already know: that the food and grocery scene in Kitchener is expanding. According to the report, around 1,000 new food establishments open their doors in the city every year.
“It has long been anecdotal that Kitchener has a thriving food economy,” Mohona Siddique, an Economy League researcher, told Billy Penn. “What was really surprising about this research was how big it was, how fast it was growing, and how inseparable it was from the growth of our city’s economy as a whole.”
The information was not easy to come by. It took a year of interviews, polls, focus groups, and analysis to discuss the data via Siddique.
“The food industry is so fast moving and has many parts,” said Siddique. “And in this fast-paced ecosystem, entrepreneurs, employees and stakeholders find it difficult to meet their own needs, let alone meet them [answer our questions]. ”
What else did the report find? Here’s a quick rundown of what you need to know.
Kitchener’s groceries generate $ 66.3 million in annual income tax revenues. That’s roughly 4% of the city’s total wage tax.
The flood of gastronomy does not require highly specialized skills here. This means that the barrier to entry is low and jobs are accessible – but they mostly pay low wages.
In Kitchener, the vast majority compensate their employees with just $ 20,000 a year. Some pay up to $ 40,000 per year, fewer reach $ 60,000 and almost none offer a salary of $ 70,000 per year.
Grocery and hospitality workers tell Billy Penn that low pay means frequent vacancies and high turnover.
“The quality of life is so shitty … in terms of pay, hours, stress that they are always looking for either drug escape or job-hopping escape,” a restaurant clerk in the Secret Annex replied to a Billy Penn poll.
The new data shows that business owners are struggling too. About 95% of Kitchener restaurants are small businesses – that’s 50 employees or less. By and large, they mostly work on wafer-thin edges.
Compared to Big Biz, they have less time to plan and fewer resources. The report shows that smaller restaurants have less access to capital and typically have to dive into their savings or use credit cards when unexpected expenses arise.
With less cash, they struggle to pay their employees well enough to stay.
“As an employer, my biggest challenge is not having enough income all year round to keep people busy,” replied one restaurant owner. “We may have someone who is great for a season, but then we die and they move on.”
They added, “Getting paid in cash sounds great when you’re young, until you want to buy a home and don’t have a job history.”