ORLANDO, Fla. – Twenty-five years spent working in kitchens does not typically lead to a career inside the tech sector, but Ben Ellsworth managed to do it — founding a company aimed at helping restaurants deal with unexpected staffing shortages.
Ellsworth is the founder and CEO of GigPro, which was recently launched in the Orlando area.
“We (cover) restaurants, catering companies, event companies, hotels, lots of resorts, but yeah, anything that encompasses hospitality and service,” he said.
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GigPro allows people in the service industry to fill in on open shifts at businesses — allowing those places to cover themselves if someone calls out sick or has to leave work unexpectedly.
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Ellsworth, who is from Charleston, South Carolina, said he got the idea while looking for someone to fill an open shift at a restaurant where he was working.
“A dishwasher didn’t show up for a shift,” he said. “I looked at my line staff, and I said, ‘Who knows a guy?’ We all got 40 people on our phones that can cover the shift, but finding the person available is impossible. That’s when I got an AirBnb notification that someone had booked a room at my house for the night and I was like, ‘I wish he had booked to wash these dishes.’ And that was kind of a little lightbulb moment.”
Ellsworth feels as though GigPro can be a boon to the struggling service industry, which he believes was “hit the hardest by the pandemic.” Much of the service industry has been dealing with staffing shortages, though Ellsworth admits, this problem has been a long time coming.
“This has been going on for over a decade, you know, in Charleston — in any market that’s got a big dining scene and a high cost of living that’s experienced like a lot of economic gentrification,” Ellsworth said. “I mean, people are — where’re all the restaurants? They’re in the city center. People are getting pushed out of there — further and further — and if you can’t afford to live in the area, it’s tough to get to the area. So that was a decade of staffing just getting worse and worse and worse. And then COVID was like this Band-Aid that just got ripped off.”
Ellsworth said GigPro is designed to offer service workers more flexibility. He said the platform also provides a $15 per hour minimum for workers.
“That’s kind of the only requirement we have is you can’t post (a job) lower than $15 an hour. Above that a business can post at whatever hourly rate they want. We don’t assign anyone we don’t use algorithms to connect people with computers. It’s not like a traditional staffing agency where you order seven (workers) — like, we’re not dealing with hamburgers, we’re dealing with people,” he said.
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Ellsworth added that his company often sees GigPro workers end up with full-time employment coming out of a shift they’ve worked through the app.
“It happens all the time,” he said. “We don’t track it through the platform by any means — because we don’t charge for it so we don’t need to track — but we work very closely with our business partners, and we hear about it all the time.”
In the latest episode of Florida Foodie, Ellsworth talks more about the founding of GigPro and how the service works. He also shares why he focuses on independent restaurants and expanding the service into a dozen markets.
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Florida Foodie is a bi-weekly podcast from WKMG and Graham Media that takes a closer look at what we eat, how we eat it and the impact that has on us here in Florida and for everyone, everywhere. Find new episodes on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you download your favorite podcasts.