CLIVE, Iowa — Toney and Sarah Chem opened the doors to 5 Borough Bagels in 2016 and quickly grew a loyal and big customer base.
“This is what I love to do,” owner Toney Chem said. “When someone loves our product and loves our business, loves our customer service, it makes me want to come back and do my job with a smile on my face.”
But in recent weeks, Toney and his wife have watched incidents with some customers treating their employees with disrespect and even hostility.
“We’ve had people call our staff really nasty names pretty much to their face. We’ve had people throw food, multiple times,” Sarah said. “Just last week someone under their breath stated some pretty derogatory comments.”
The couple said incident after incident build up — especially when their staff are understaffed and working long hours. Eventually, Sarah had hit her breaking point and they decided to share their grievances on social media.
“It needs to be talked about because it’s not just our little café,” Sarah said. “Other restaurant owners — whether it’s Asian food, Italian food, any other industry — they’re dealing with the exact same thing and they are just taking it and taking it and they are exhausted.”
Jessica Dunker, president and CEO of the Iowa Restaurant Association, said the Chems are not alone in their experience.
“Restaurants across the city are experiencing similar issues. We are so understaffed and there is pent up demand by customers to come back out,” Dunker said in an email. “It’s a tough combination. We love seeing people back but we can’t keep up.”
The Chems even put a sign outside of their Clive shop asking customers to be patient, saying that they are understaffed and are trying to keep up with the demand to their best ability.
“We’re not perfect. I know that we mess up, but we expect you call us at a decent time and try to figure it out without any attitude,” Toney said.
The couple said they are happy they made the post on social media to raise awareness, as they have received flooding messages of support and even generous tips in the hundreds during business hours on Friday.
“It’s not all bad, but on days when we’re physically and mentally exhausted, those things add up,” Sarah said. “Just be kind. It takes more effort to be rude and nasty.”