Staffing shortage sunk Topside Grill, owner says | News

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GLOUCESTER — The Topside Grill and Pub, an establishment on Rogers Street with a “Cheers” vibe where everybody probably knew each other’s name, has closed after 35 years in business.

Owner Doug Silva said trouble hiring and keeping staff was a major contributor to the decision.

“You are only as good as your team,” Silva said, adding Topside Grill was going out on top.

“We’ve been blessed. We had a lot of good years. This year was actually the best year that we have ever had and it just got to the point, if we are going to go out, we are going to go out on our own terms and not have to say ‘I can’t open up today because I don’t have the staff to.’”

Even after the restaurant shuttered after closing for business Saturday, Sept. 10, customers kept coming in the door.

While Silva sat with a reporter for an interview at the upstairs bar last Tuesday, people came in looking to be seated.

“I was coming to support you before you were closed,” said Dawn Caraway of Gloucester.

Silva said the phone has been ringing off the hook.

“The last couple of days the outpouring from people has been very nice,” he said.

On Sept. 8, the Silva family posted about the restaurant closing.

“We are saddened to say that this week will be our last. As many others have experienced within the industry, it has been a challenging uphill between the impacts of COVID-19, increasing product costs and labor shortages,” wrote the family on Facebook, thanking its customers and its “remarkable staff.”

Pandemic changes

The restaurant usually had about 30 to 35 employees, Silva said, with a couple who had been with the restaurant before he came on board.

“Unfortunately, there just wasn’t enough of them. As labor problems kind of continue, it got tougher and tough to manage,” he said. “But we got to the point where we just said it’s time. It’s a different industry now.”

Silva said the family has faced increasing food and labor costs before, “but getting people in the door, that’s the toughest thing nowadays is finding people.”

Years ago, people stayed in one job and climbed the ladder, making it easier for long-time employees to train new ones, he said.

The COVID-19 pandemic changed the industry and work ethics. He said people do not seem to view work as a necessity as much anymore.

“I think people got fed up and they said, ‘If I don’t have to deal with being told what to do, then I won’t …’ There is a little bit of that that you have to respect, but at the same time you can’t make a business run that way.”

Across industriesKen Riehl, the CEO of the Greater Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce, said “restaurant businesses in particular continue to have problems with hiring, especially the sort of the lower wage earner staff, like kitchen help and even waitressing and positions like that, but it’s really across the accommodation category.”

Most Cape Ann inns and hotels are also looking for help. He said most local restaurants, including in Essex where he lives, were not open seven days a week this summer.

Riehl said this was a result of the pandemic and people shifting jobs.

“Our young people in particular, they are not coming back into the workforce and working these kinds of jobs in the same numbers prior to the pandemic. and it’s just not clear to us why this is the case,” Riehl said. Most restaurants have pulled through, he said but the owners are tired, in they are doing much of the lower end work.

Sal Di Stefano, the city’s economic development director, echoed Riehl.

“Mayor (Greg) Verga and I have been engaging with businesses throughout Gloucester, and nearly all are experiencing staffing shortages,” said Sal Di Stefano, the city’s economic development director, in an email. “The issue is not solely in the restaurant industry, it is across all industries. This staffing shortage is not unique to Gloucester, as cities and towns across Massachusetts and the entire country are struggling to retain and recruit employees.

“The city has been working closely with MassHire and The Greater Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce to find ways to support Gloucester’s businesses,” Di Stefano added.

‘Something in the works’Doug Silva said his father, Dennis, opened Schooner’s of Gloucester in the summer of 1988. The family owns the two-story restaurant building at 50 Rogers St. built about 1940, according to city records.

In 1999, his father sold the business, and Schooner’s went through two different ownerships before the family bought it back in 2007.

“It was called Schooner’s of Gloucester and Topside Pub, so we changed the name to Topside Grill and I came on in 2008 and here we are. We have been here ever since,” Doug Silva said. His father is semi-retired but still helped him out.

Silva said he grew up within the walls of the restaurant. He is classically trained chef with a degree in business management and economics from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Silva, 42, says he has a 2½-year-old son and is looking for some time off.

He said this will not be the end of a restaurant at the location, hinting that there is going to be different ownership but he could not get into the details. “But there’s something in the works as far as that goes,” he said.

Ethan Forman may be contacted at 978-675-2714,or at

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