With his app that helps F&B pros find open shifts, now in six markets and counting, the longtime Charleston chef is poised to change how the restaurant industry staffs its kitchens
Chef Ben Ellsworth (above right) launched the Gigpro food-and-beverage jobs app in Charleston just before the pandemic. Now, it’s filling shifts in multiple cities, including Charlotte and Nashville.
CM: Why are restaurants nationwide having such a hard time filling shifts?
BE: [When the pandemic hit], the F&B industry laid off 2.5 million workers and told them they didn’t know when they’d be coming back. Some went to work in construction, landscaping, or for Amazon and found quality of life and flexibility in their schedules. Then F&B said, “Come on back for 15 bucks an hour, kiss your weekends good-bye, and by the way, we know you’re making $22 an hour elsewhere.” Restaurants are posting to Craigslist and Indeed, and it’s crickets.
CM: How is Gigpro different?
BE: [Restaurants] are starting to raise wages, and it’s still not filling shifts. Workers want flexibility. How do we get them to pick up a schedule? We can’t, but we can get them to pick up a shift. There are people who are working through the app full-time or supplementing their incomes. It empowers the workforce. It gives them the opportunity to go in for one shift and check the place out.
CM: What attracted you to F&B?
BE: My first job was at a comedy theater in Augusta, Georgia. Nothing special—french fries, onion rings—but I enjoyed the energy of it. If it was a full show, 280 people were seated at once. It was a mad dash, and that’s what I fell in love with at first. I went to Augusta State University and majored in English, but once I found out that you couldn’t get kids to read The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, I didn’t want to teach anymore. I enjoyed cooking, so I came down to Johnson & Wales. Charleston was the first place I threw a chef’s coat on, and this is where I fell in love with food.
CM: Was there an aha moment for Gigpro?
BE: I was staring at a pile of dishes. I had been consulting as a chef for three or four years, just getting places open. John Kenney at Royal American had asked me to roll out a new menu. [At the time,] I was Airbnbing a room out of my house to supplement my income between consulting gigs. When we launched the menu, the dishwasher didn’t show up. I did what we do all the time: look at your staff, and ask, “Who knows a guy?” Then my phone goes off, and I read “So-and-so booked your room.” I thought, “We live in a day and age when a stranger can book a room in your house with a couple clicks, but I can’t fill a shift.” That’s when the idea came to me.
CM: How did it become a reality?
BE: We built a rinky-dink prototype. We partnered with Halls, Duvall Catering, and Salthouse Catering, and it worked! It blew our minds. We started beta testing the prototype November 1, 2019 and launched right before Valentine’s Day 2020. The first two weeks of March, we exploded, then boom, COVID hits. When the world was asleep, we got to work building the app.
CM: How are things going now?
BE: In Charleston, we’re posting north of 300 gigs a week and filling 91 percent of them. Pros are willing to work on their own terms. We’ve got 6,000 on the platform. Last Saturday, we posted 101 gigs that had 2,865 applicants.
CM: What’s next?
BE: Gigpro will be live in Asheville, Raleigh, and Savannah this summer and seven other Southeast markets in the next 12 months.
Download Gigpro here.