International Cafe on Ninth Street has long been a go-to place for Mediterranean food in town. Run by the Venezuelan-Libyan couple Elizabeth Hernandez-Gumati and Mohamed Gumati, the cafe serves a variety of gyros, falafel and hummus with a strong feeling of welcome.
After 10 years of service, COVID-19 caused an explosion of delivery services and a resulting workforce shortage that threaten the well-being of the restaurant’s business.
The place is lively and visibly busy during lunch hours. Apart from Mohamed and Elizabeth, there are only two more people on staff — Yumivia Rojas, who recently immigrated from Venezuela, and Mike, a family friend.
“We don’t have a shortage of customers, we have a shortage of workers,” said Mohamed. “To find the right people now is kind of hard.”
Like many other family-run restaurants, International Cafe has been financially impacted by the introduction and expansion of food delivery services in town.
“It all started a year or two before COVID,” said Mohamed. The cafe would hire and lose employees within a couple months. The majority of them would shift toward delivery work, which promised flexible hours and payment. Because of that, Mohamed and Elizabeth reduced the working hours of the place, from 11 a.m. to 8 or 9 p.m., to 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Changes like this can be seen in places all over the city.
“When you have a restaurant change their hours, that’s probably because they have a shortage of employees,” said Mohamed Gumati.
Despite the reduced work hours and shortage of employees, the International Cafe is still profitable. The majority of people have been coming there for years and spread a good word about the place around town.
“Usually, we have a very strong lunch, and that’s why we can afford to close earlier,” Mohamed Gumati said.
Regardless of the daily challenges, Elizabeth and Mohamed continue to run the café and serve their food to regular customers.
This story was created during the 73rd Missouri Photo Workshop Hometown Edition — an annual photo workshop concentrated on discovery of human stories in small towns around the globe. The mentors of this photo story were MU alumni Lois Raimondo and Torsten Kjellstrand.