COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Workers across the country are leaving their jobs in record numbers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics found nearly 40 million Americans quit in 2021. But the question is: where are all these workers going once they quit?
Chef Ben Gallegos-Pardo is one of those Americans who left a career of 11 years behind. He found happiness returning to an industry he loved growing up: the restaurant business.
“You kind of just start going through memory lane, and so it's therapeutic. You get to think about family and history and culture. For a moment in time, the issues of the world are gone.”
He grew up cooking and owned a restaurant with his wife years ago.
“It was a true small family, it was like 20 seats. But once that closed down, I went back into education," Gallegos-Pardo said.
Gallegos-Pardo traded his apron for administration and worked at a college for 11 years.
“Half of my passion is working with students and their families, especially the Spanish-speaking community and helping them to have access to good education.”
But, the pandemic changed the job he loved.
“More and more responsibilities were being given and there was no adjustment of the pay, and all of a sudden, I'm not talking to people anymore. I'm sitting in front of a screen," he said.
He knew he needed a change, and an offer to come back to the kitchen came just in time.
“It was truly an epiphany, that just like, ‘You can do this. There's no rules.’ Society says you might want to be more conservative and do the smart thing, but I need to be able to show my kids, ‘It's okay to be risk-takers,’” said Gallegos-Pardo.
Gallegos-Pardo’s epiphany brought him to Epiphany, the restaurant.
“We are a restaurant, bar, café, music venue, all the things,” said Mandy Todd, who runs the restaurant with her husband, Russ.
The Todds just opened the Colorado Springs gathering space in November.
The restaurant and café run during the day and evening, and on some nights, the stage lights up for live music performances. Epiphany was created to be a destination for everything from a business lunch to a night on the town.
Todd, like Gallegos-Pardo, left her career in the midst of the pandemic for a new one. But, she's using experience from former work to help run the performance and venue side of Epiphany.
“I've been a music educator and music minister for the last 20 years, and my husband is the restaurant guy, but you know, to be able to be here every day to be able to fully invest into this. It is a passion. It is,” she said.
Pursuing a passion is one factor driving millions of workers to quit. Researchers at the University of Michigan found 46% of college-educated workers surveyed said passion for their work was the top priority, compared to 20% who said salary was most important.
Industries like healthcare, education and service jobs have seen the most people quit. Researchers said remote work jobs are the top destination, but the manufacturing and transportation industries are also growing destinations. Todd says the pursuit of passion that pushed her and Gallegos-Pardo to quit their prior jobs also drove several of her employees to apply at Epiphany.
“We have probably three, three or four people who have become servers for the very first time because they've left the teaching,” said Todd.
“I think a lot of the people, in that year of isolation, a lot of them chose to grow,” said Gallegos-Pardo.
Researchers say this shift in worker attitudes and the high demand for labor is giving workers more power than before. This shift changed how Todd and Gallegos-Pardo run their team. They set up paid time off and other benefits most restaurants don’t have.
“How can we bring that knowledge into the restaurant to make it unlike anything else? So, our employees don't leave, they feel valued, they're able to pay not just their rent, but they're also able to save some money,” said Gallegos-Pardo.
But more than wages and benefits, this shift is giving those who took a chance and quit, the confidence to keep going.
“The most surprising thing has been that I'm doing it!” said Todd with a smile.
“This is just the first step. There's no time to waste,” said Gallegos-Pardo.
The two said they are energized to keep building their passions for music and food through Epiphany and hope the community will come to see what they've created.