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End of COVID restrictions brings excitement, but also new challenges to understaffed restaurants

Now that restrictions are lifted, Martinez hopes to see every seat filled with customers.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — More than a year of COVID safety measures come to a close next week.

"It will send the right message to the general public," says Brian Calley, president of the Small Business Association of Michigan. "It's ok to reengage."

Capacity limits for indoor spaces, like entertainment venues and gyms, will be no more. Restaurants are on the list too.

"I'm so happy for that," says Maria Martinez.

Martinez owns Tamales Mary, which has been in Grand Rapids for almost five years. After a delayed opening, a second location in Eastown just opened up in recent weeks.

Now that COVID restrictions are lifted, Martinez hopes to see every seat filled with customers.

"At 100% capacity? That's nice, that's good for us," says Martinez.

As nice as it is, it also poses a challenge.

"Its a little hard to find good people," she says.

Like many restaurants around the state, Tamales Mary can't find the staff it needs. And with more people set to come out with no capacity limits, that could make it tough to keep up with demand.

"That's why we're trying to get more people to work here," says Martinez.

Calley says the next step to returning to normal is for the state to end its pandemic unemployment rates, which have kept people from returning to work.

"They're competing with and beating the wage, but what they can't compete with is 100% time off," says Calley.

As for Martinez, she can offer something an unemployment check can't.

"I think we are very lovely people," she laughs.

Tamales Mary's new location will have an official grand opening on June 23.

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