Photo: Kent Nishimura/The Denver Post (Getty Images)

Restaurants in expensive cities like New York and San Francisco have for years struggled to hire and retain kitchen staff. Not only is Denver experiencing a rise in its cost of living, but it faces a compounding challenge that’s unique to just a few states: the marijuana industry is stealing its employees.

The Denver Post reports that though there are no hard numbers to demonstrate how many cooks ditch the kitchen for the legal weed industry, chefs definitely think it’s to blame for staffing woes.

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“You can go work in a grow house today and make $20 per hour and sit in a nice comfortable chair in an air-conditioned space with headphones on,” Peter Karpinski, co-founder of the Sage Restaurant Group, told The Denver Post.

That’s compared to the $12.83 an average line cook or prep cook makes. And a kitchen is hardly an air-conditioned garden. As anyone who’s worked in a kitchen knows, the work can be hot, cramped, loud, frantic, and physically and mentally demanding. The Post cites information from cannarecruiter.com to put the average starting wage for bud trimmers around $12-$15, while employees who are speedy with scissors could earn as much as $20 an hour. Tending to quiet, peaceful plants sounds like a vacation compared to a long shift in a restaurant kitchen, not to mention it can be better-paying work.

But the marijuana industry is just one piece of the labor-squeeze puzzle. An explosion of new development, housing, and restaurants in the Mile High city has led to increased demand for hospitality workers, and has driven up the cost of living in some neighborhoods. Unfortunately for restaurateurs looking to staff their kitchens, neither the pace of development nor the growth of the marijuana industry appear to be slowing any time soon.

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