Staffing and housing shortages challenge Kauai businesses

  • Jessica Else/The Garden Island

    Thomas Pickett pulls fresh bread from the oven at Kilauea Bakery.

  • Jessica Else/The Garden Island

    Kilauea Bakery is closing Tuesdays starting May 8 because of staffing issues, as well as a need to rest one day a week.

KILAUEA — For the first time in 28 years, Kilauea Bakery is switching up the schedule and shutting their doors one day a week, on Tuesdays, starting this week.

“We’ve been going seven days a week for 28 years,” said bakery owner Thomas Pickett. “We’re doing it to get more rest and to give us more time for maintenance, also because of staffing.”

As a restaurant, Kilauea Bakery has a naturally high turnover rate, but Pickett says he’s seeing about one resignation per week from his staff, which is about 40 people strong.

He recruits new employees via a sign on the bakery door.

“There are very few applicants for our job openings and when staff quits, the most common reason is, ‘can’t find a place to live’, or ‘can’t afford the rent’ or ‘lost my place, it got sold’, or ‘can’t take the weather living in a car,’” Pickett said.

At any given time he has at least one or two people living in their cars or in tents, and more than that living at small farms through the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms program (WWOOF).

And the difficulty of hiring and retaining employees isn’t unique to Kilauea. According to the Kauai Chamber of Commerce, businesses island-wide are seeing many faces go through their doors.

“The staffing shortage is impacting businesses from Waimea to Hanalei and everywhere in between,” said Mark Perriello, president of the Kauai Chamber of Commerce. “Chamber members report that they can’t fill vacancies and are having difficulty retaining good staff.”

Hawaii’s unemployment rate is at two percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor. Kauai’s Director of the Office of Economic Development George Costa says island workers are always looking to better their situation.

“The majority of jobs available on Kauai are visitor industry-related service jobs,” Costa said. “For most residents, those jobs are starting points for those entering the workforce. “

He continued: “Many are always looking for a better paying job, that offers better benefits (and) schedule. For a small community like Kauai, it’s like musical chairs and the best advice is ‘don’t burn your bridges.’”

Difficulty finding housing is a problem, both Costa and Perriello say, and is making staffing shortages worse.

“Many businesses are forced to seek talent from the Mainland and elsewhere, but would-be workers are turning down jobs because they can’t find a place to live,” Perriello said.

Costa said the County of Kauai Housing Agency has been “working hard to create more housing opportunities, but cannot keep up with the demand.”

In the Hawaii Legislature, seven bills passed this session designed to help with housing shortages. These bills relate to things like money to address homelessness, bills relating to affordable housing and to county land use requirements, and relating to Hawaii public housing.

While the staffing and housing shortage is a challenge on Kauai, Pickett emphasizes it’s only one of three reasons he’s closing the bakery one day a week starting Tuesday.

“It’s one of the reasons, but not the only one,” he said. “It’ll be nice to get a day to rest and take care of things around here.”


Jessica Else, environment reporter, can be reached at 245-0452 or at jelse@

  1. RG DeSoto May 6, 2018 9:42 am Reply

    Housing shortage? Look no farther than the fat, clumsy hand of the state and county regulatory systems. Oh wait,…if a lot of government interference with the market hasn’t worked very well, then way more will. That’s political decision making par-excellence…and it will continue to fail.
    RG DeSoto

  2. No_They_Didn't May 6, 2018 10:38 pm Reply

    Schooled. The owner. Did it cost you your whole life? Like 80 hours per week work.

  3. Oingo boingo May 9, 2018 6:20 am Reply

    1 in 7 homes on kauai is a vacation rental…thats the problem.
    Solution- 55% tax on legal Vacation rentals.
    Solution- illegal vacation rentals subject to forfeiture if found guilty of running illegal operation.

  4. jake liggett May 13, 2018 7:07 am Reply

    If you’ve over 30 and still camping out at your mom’s house, you’re homeless, dude.

  5. harryoyama2 May 15, 2018 5:02 am Reply

    There are hundreds if not thousands of empty housings on military areas, some are just rotting away from non-use.

  6. Steve lillith December 28, 2018 10:20 am Reply

    Most places I’ve seen looking for work pay their staff 13/hr which is not much. If you can not afford to pay your staff properly so they can even afford to live in Kauai shame on you! Business owners seem to be living somewhere?!?! Samething everywhere. Business owners pay terrible wages and collect all the benefits but complain when no one wants to work for you. If you can’t pay a living wage, Close your business down!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the TERMS OF SERVICE. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. To report comments that you believe do not follow our guidelines, send us an email.