The population of Denver has been steadily growing over the past few years, but not enough of its new inhabitants want to work in the restaurant industry.
The reason? The higher-paying jobs are in weed, man.
New eateries are popping up all over Denver to meet the increased demand of residents and tourists, but restaurant owners claim they’re having a hard time filling their kitchens with able-bodied workers, Bloomberg reports.
“Our work force is being drained by the pot industry,” Denver restaurateur Bryan Dayton told the site.
“Enter the weed business, which pays $22 an hour with full benefits," added Dayton. "You can come work in a kitchen for (me) for eight hours a day, in a hot kitchen. It’s a stressful life. Or you can go sort weed in a climate-controlled greenhouse. It’s a pretty obvious choice.”
So why don’t restaurant owners just pay a little more? Quite simply, the marijuana industry can generally afford to pay workers at various levels much higher wages, they argue.
In 2016 alone, Fortune reports that the Colorado marijuana industry brought in over $1 billion in revenue — as well as $150 million in tax revenue for the state — but dispensaries and growhouses don’t have the same kinds of margins or overhead as the dining industry, say restaurateurs.
“If you make 10 percent profit in the restaurant business, you are in the hall of fame as a great operator," explained award-winning sommelier and Denver restaurateur Bobby Stuckey to Bloomberg. “Compare that to most other businesses — and presumably the legal pot industry — where if you did 20 percent profit, you would be fired."
Stuckey, too, claimed that marijuana dispensaries — which supply strong strains of pot and THC-infused edibles — are largely responsible for a 2 percent decline in alcohol sales at his restaurants, as patrons are choosing to get high instead of drink.
But lucrative paychecks may not be the sole reason Denver’s waitstaffs are leaving for greener pastures. Bakers and pastry chefs are seeing new opportunities in the edible pot industry, says Jennifer Jasinski, who owns multiple eateries in the city.
“Laced candies and gummy bears are sought-after treats when they are made well, so pastry chefs and cooks can make them for three to four times the money a restaurant can pay,” Jasinski told Bloomberg.
On the other hand, Eater cites a study from The Oregonian which found that dispensary employees in Oregon, where recreational marijuana was legalized in 2015, earned an average of $21,000 per year in 2016, or “well below the average annual wage in Oregon,” according to economist Josh Lehner of the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis.
Whatever the reason for Denver’s dilemma, Dayton told Bloomberg that there is a small silver lining to the cloud of marijuana smoke that’s hanging over his restaurants: More tourists are suffering from an acute case of the munchies.