Pazar Food Collective will close in September, the influential Sydney restaurant a victim of a city-wide staff shortage that has delayed openings, trimmed operation hours and now has restaurateurs handing back the keys.
“It’s been three of us in the kitchen for 12 months,” Pazar’s owner-chef, Attila Yilmaz, tells Good Food. The final straw came when several key foreign staff announced – after two years of lockdowns – they intended to return overseas.
Staff shortages are a familiar story across Sydney. Last week, Barbetta, in Paddington, announced it was currently not accepting walk-in customers during its evening service due to the staff shortage.
Pazar seemingly had a competitive recruiting advantage in its location on the doorstep of south-western Sydney, with higher levels of available workers.
“You’d think, right,” Yilmaz says. “We can’t get any talent or skills. The big [hospitality] groups are sucking them up.” He argues small operators can’t compete with opportunities such as career progression, group discounts and “massive staff parties” offered by the big players.
“They are the Woolworths and Coles and we are the little corner shop,” he says.
Sydney restaurateurs also complain about a diminishing pool of workers, with many choosing to move to more flexible industries after the rolling lockdowns of the past two years.
During its eight-year run, Pazar attracted good reviews and a legion of fans with its sweeping Middle Eastern and Mediterranean menu. Its owner is a colourful character who also earned media attention when he banned kids from using mobile phones and iPads in the restaurant, because he wanted parents to engage with their children.
Yilmaz says the worst bit is trade is still strong. “The bookings and demand is still there, I just can’t service it.”
After Pazar’s final service on September 10, he’ll take some time out to contemplate his next move. He’s not sure yet exactly what that will be, but whatever it is “it might just have to rely on me”.