Buzz owners defend hiring record
The owners of cafe chain Buzz Restaurants say their business is getting unfairly bashed as a company that doesn't want to hire locals.
Buzz owner Holger Eiselt said he was angered by the “slandering” of the business every time Buzz is mentioned in the media.
Management told The Royal Gazette that the badmouthing goes back to last year's mass boycott by Bermuda College students of the campus cafe.
“That's when it really started,” said Buzz General Manager Thomas Mayer, who feels detractors are simply taking exception to the restaurant's success
“They did it without telling us — they didn't call and say they weren't happy,” added Mr Mayer of the October, 2011 boycott. “It went to the paper and TV, and we found out that way.”
According to Mr Eiselt, Buzz gets accused of discriminating against Bermudians online and on talk radio.
“We just need to set the record straight,” he said. “There's a lot of talk shows that get bombarded with calls from people that say Buzz does not hire Bermudians.
“You see it in comments on articles online where Buzz appears. But we have a higher percentage of Bermudians than foreigners, and this number has increased over the years.”
Mr Eiselt said the problem comes from the scarcity of trained Bermudian chefs, which skews the restaurant's image because so many of its chefs hail from overseas.
Offering to show his staff figures to anyone who asks, he said the chain's current total of 78 employees are 51 percent Bermudian, four percent spouses of Bermudians, and 45 percent foreign workers.
“Eighty percent of our foreign staff are chefs. But 70 percent of management are Bermudians.”
He said he challenged other restaurants to beat Buzz's policy of advancing local staff.
“And I would also challenge any other restaurant or hotel who gets involved in the community as much as we do,” he added.
“Buzz is not a small company any more, but we're the biggest food donor by far, out of the restaurants.
“We're a transparent company, and anybody who has concerns or questions about our employment can always call our head office and get any information they're looking for.”
The two men, both of whom went through apprenticeships as part of their school curricula in Europe, said Bermuda needed to include work experience in school and more aggressively train young Bermudians.
Faced with a shortage of Bermudian chefs, Mr Eiselt conceded that, out of Buzz's 35 non-Bermudian staff, the great majority work as chefs.
But Mr Mayer said it was company policy only to hire professional, fully-trained chefs.
“Everyone knows there are very few chefs in Bermuda. There are all employed. So we have no choice but to bring a lot of our chefs in.”
He argued that Buzz gets no credit for its other policy of “fast-tracking” Bermudians who show potential, but who don't have qualifications on paper.
“We pay for people to take hospitality management and go through the management apprenticeship programme with us, where you're moved through many different department, through different outlets, to get a broader view of what it's like to become a manager in the hospitality industry,” Mr Mayer said.
“We see talent, and obviously we hope that they'll come to work with us. We also have ongoing training schemes where we have teamed up with the Bermuda Hospitality Institute.
“We have several young Bermudians who are still in high school coming one day a week to one of our businesses, being introduced to what we do and what it's like.”
He pointed to recently-hired Bermudian Kelly Simmons as someone without “formal training or diplomas in the hospitality industry”, who was taken on in March as his assistant, and who ended up part of Buzz management.
Ms Simmons admitted she was familiar with rumours that Buzz was a discriminatory company.
“I did hear that from some people,” she said. “But it didn't bother me. I still applied, and I still got a job here.”
Saying her experience from Bermuda Restaurants Limited “speaks louder than a diploma”, Ms Simmons ended up as the company's catering coordinator.
Noting that he was frustrated by “a lot of bashing of Buzz going on”, Mr Mayer said the chain, now in its ninth year of operations, played a significant role in the community.
“We're a big sponsor of the Mirrors programme, and the biggest sponsor of the Daily Bread Programme,” he said.
“We donate to the Duke of Edinburgh's Awards and the Ross (Blackie) Talbot charity. We do a lot of things out there but not to market it.
“That's what makes us proper corporate citizens. No one ever mentions it, but we are not only here to take. The business is doing quite well, but we are feeling the recession just like anyone else.”
The company has made headlines in recent years with its success in a notoriously tough market.
But the visibility of foreign staff set tongues wagging, most notably during the trial of arson-accused Carlos Astwood — who admitted setting a small fire at a Buzz entrance in protest of what he believed was a preference for expatriates. The trial ended in a hung jury.
Most recent speculation centred on a possible deal between Buzz and Esso Bermuda, which had some employees worried they could end up out of work.
No outcome to the talks has been announced, but Esso Bermuda head manager Mark Fields said he expected for all staff to be accommodated in the event of any alignment between the two companies.
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