GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) — Dennis Quaintance looks a lot like Thomas Jefferson these days. He could also pass for just about any of our country’s founding fathers.
He’s walking around with his shoulder-length hair pulled back in a ponytail. And there’s a story behind it.
“When we furloughed all those people back in March of 2020, I said, ‘you know, I’m not going to cut my hair until most of them are back,’” he told me. “And they’re still not back.”
And just like Jefferson and his colonial counterparts worked to build a new government in the late 1700s, Quaintance is working to rebuild a business during a winding-down pandemic in the year 2021.
“It’s as difficult to reopen a business as it is to open it. We underestimated that a little bit,” he said.
Quaintance is the CEO of Quaintance-Weaver Restaurants and Hotels. The company includes two high-end hotels in Greensboro (The O’Henry and The Proximity) along with their respective restaurants. It also owns two Lucky 32 Restaurants: one in Greensboro and one in Cary.
Because Quaintance is among the most successful and respected executives in the hospitality industry, I’ve featured him in Newsmakers several times including in May 2020 not long after all the company’s businesses closed due to COVID and furloughed more than 600 employees company-wide.
All of the restaurants and hotels have reopened. But when I spoke with him last week, only about half of those furloughed employees had come back to work. Quaintance-Weaver currently needs to fill 110 open positions. The biggest need is kitchen/culinary staff.
“I’m not a social scientist, and I don’t sort of buy the idea they’re not coming back just because of the unemployment benefit, the federal subsidy even though it may be a part of it. It may be 10% of it. It could be 60% of it,” he said.
“I think it’s a lot of things. I think that if we just went out and sort of randomly picked 100 people that have the potential of wanting to work here, I think we may have 60 different stories.”
To compensate for the staffing shortage, some of the tables, offerings and serving hours (in at least one restaurant) have been scaled back to keep customer wait times from being so long.
All Quaintance-Weaver employees are also masked. Customers are also offered masks before they walk into the businesses. But mask-wearing among customers isn’t enforced.
“Masks are a little bit like safety belts,” he told me. “If you don’t mind wearing one, then what’s the big deal? Almost all of our staff members say, ‘we’re more comfortable with it because we’re frontline’ and that sort of stuff. But the other thing is I don’t want them to be in a situation where we’re isolating people who are not vaccinated and sort of bringing attention to them.”
“We just thinking everyone ought to be able to do what they feel most comfortable.”
Industry-wide, Quaintance believes eating inside a restaurant is “very safe.” Although he prefers employees wear masks and the establishments don’t place tables too close to each other. He also believes hotels are as safe, if not safer than they were in 2019.
As for Quaintance-Weaver establishments, some of the things the pandemic generated — namely the plexiglass partitions between tables and at the bars which employees themselves designed, built, and installed (the company calls these people “The Craft Guild”) may become permanent.
“It’s aesthetically not disturbing. It doesn’t interrupt the guests and it helps with acoustics,” he said.
As far as business returning to the way it was pre-pandemic, Quaintance is optimistic.
“I think travel will recover. I think business travel will recover later. I think that dining out, I think that will probably be more popular than it has been because I think when you lost something, it becomes even more dear.”
So, in the meantime, Quaintance and his team continue to work toward that day when their establishments are fully staffed.
“If you want to get into the business, are dedicated to it and can contribute, you can make a good living in it,” he said.
After all, he started as a housekeeper’s assistant in a hotel in Montana when he was 15 years old, and he’s done quite well for himself — long hair and all.
For more information on Quaintance-Weaver Hotels and Restaurants including job openings (click on the “careers” section of the homepage), click here.