Banbury Cross Donuts owner blames worker for sign that faulted government ‘handouts’ for labor shortage

The shop has remained silent online as scores of critical social media users have asked for a response, but KSL-Ch. 5 reports the owner blames an employee for the sign.

(Sheila McCann | The Salt Lake Tribune) Banbury Cross Donuts on 700 East in Salt Lake City. The bakery is getting scorched online for a sign it posted blaming the government for its lack of staff.

A beloved Salt Lake City doughnut shop is getting scorched online for a sign it posted blaming the government for its lack of staff.

According to a screenshot from Reddit posted to Twitter by New York Times columnist Farhad Manjoo, the Banbury Cross bakery had a typed sign taped on a window complaining about the national labor shortage, which is impacting everything from the restaurant industry to construction to trucking.

“To our loyal customers,” the letter began, “sadly, due to government and state handouts no one wants to work anymore. Therefore, we are short staffed during our busy season.”

The bakery, located at 705 S. 700 East, often has lines of cars backed onto 700 East during busy times at its drive-thru window. It asked patrons to be patient with the employees that “did choose to come to work today.”

“Ugh, when you see these signs it means ‘we don’t pay enough for people to want to work here,’” Manjoo tweeted Saturday, garnering more than 9,000 likes and 1,000 retweets over the weekend.

Employees who answered the phone Monday twice said no manager was immediately available to comment. Scores of social media users asked for the shop to explain the sign, as it continued to make unrelated posts on Twitter and Facebook, and it still had not responded there as of Wednesday morning.

But in a story KSL-Ch. 5 posted Tuesday night, the station said it had talked to the owner, and without naming him, reported that he said an employee had placed the sign in the window without his knowledge. He said he took the sign down as soon as he was aware of it, KSL reported, and said he has enough employees and has received more applications in the last few days.

An employee again told The Salt Lake Tribune Wednesday morning that no one was available to comment.

Some Twitter users, including state Sen. Kathleen Riebe, were quick to point out that Banbury Cross received more than $140,000 in Paycheck Protection Program funds. PPP is a government program that sent money to businesses during the coronavirus pandemic. Others also noted that Utah ended enhanced unemployment benefits in June.

“This is one of the most popular local donut shops in Salt Lake and are CONSTANTLY busy,” tweeted @swansofnever. “But they got a PPP loan and still can’t pay their employees well? Sounds like that’s on them.”

Yelp had to temporarily disable the business’s reviews. On Reddit, where the sign was first shared Saturday, there were 1,785 comments on the post as of midday Monday.

Riebe, whose tweet about Banbury Cross has gotten nearly 1,000 likes, said she was not trying to “cancel” the business — and has enjoyed eating their doughnuts.

“But it’s not really fair to say that the government’s out to get you guys,” the Cottonwood Heights Democrat said.

KSL reported the owner acknowledged he had received relief money and said he used it to pay workers.

With the shop’s silence, several doughnut aficionados declared they’d be going elsewhere for their sugar fix. “Hey #BanburyCross, Try raising wages, benefits and stop blaming workers for knowing their worth,” tweeted @lalalogan28.

Others complained on the Banbury Cross Facebook page, alleging hypocrisy.

The social media uproar about the local doughnut shop highlights the fact that workers around the nation are demanding more from their employers, Riebe argues.

“We have to have better working conditions for our employees,” she said. “We need to look at this as a bigger problem.”

As a teacher, she said, she’s witnessed the same dynamics in the school system, which is having trouble hiring bus drivers. And one of Riebe’s colleagues has confided that she often exhausts all of her sick leave in the beginning of each year, since her young child picks up illnesses in preschool.

There aren’t simple answers to these problems, Riebe said, but it is clear that the status quo isn’t working for families.

“This is something that was always right underneath the surface, you know?” she said. “This is an undercurrent that we’ve had for years, and we’ve neglected to look at it.”

Melva Sine, president of the Utah Restaurant Association, said she would have advised Banbury Cross to share a different message.

“What they should have posted is ‘please be patient, we’re short-handed.’ Which is what we’re encouraging the restaurant industry to do,” Sine said. “You don’t just have a worker shortage because people don’t want to come back to work, you have a shortage because people are actually getting sick.”

She noted that there’s not just a labor shortage, there’s a supply chain shortage, and both businesses and their patrons need to accept the current situation.

“There is a new normal,” Sine said, “and the new normal is enjoy the journey, whatever journey you’re on.”