The marquee outside of the Bonanza restaurant on West 15th Street says it plainly: CLOSED.

The buffet and steakhouse shut its doors Sunday after more than 35 years in the Dickinson community.

“We’re done,” franchise owner Bob Wade said Thursday.

Wade, who came to North Dakota from Alabama 36 years ago, opened the franchise in 1979 and has run the restaurant ever since, attracting a loyal patronage over the years.

Business was good, he said, but like many others in the service industry, Bonanza couldn’t compete with oilfield wages. Staff - which at its max included 32 employees - had slipped to down to 11. Wade tried to get by on an adjusted schedule, operating the restaurant just five days a week.

But by Sunday, he told his staff, some of whom had worked with him for more than two decades, that he was closing for good.

“We didn’t have any employees to make the schedule for the week,” he said. “It was way too short-handed. Nobody was applying. I didn’t have a choice.”

But Bonanza “isn’t alone,” said Dickinson Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Cooper Whitman. The service industry, including restaurants and retail, have continuously struggled to maintain staff in recent years.

“It is absolutely a major issue, the biggest issue. No question,” he said.

The community is stuck in a kind of workforce “revolving door,” he explained. Restaurants compete for workers from the same limited pool, losing workers to competing restaurants unless they can lure staff back with even higher wages.

“The problem is because unemployment is so low, everybody is gathering their employees and recruiting from the same field,” he said. “Employees have all the power, whereas in a down economy, employers have all the power.”

With wages in the energy industry often starting at double what many restaurants can offer, the county’s 1.4 percent unemployment rate can work against the service industry. The largest employer in Stark County - with the highest average weekly wages - remains mining, gas, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction, according to September data from the Labor Market Information Center.

But with new restaurants eyeing Dickinson - including Buffalo Wild Wings, expected to open later this year - Whitman said an expanded industry might help the problem. As Dickinson’s quality of life improves, more residents will move to the area, and possibly add to the workforce, he added.

“I don’t think it will hurt it,” Cooper said. “It will keep it going in the same direction, which is not a great direction.”

In the meantime, Wade said he isn’t sure how other restaurants in the area, some of which have had to cut back on their own hours to accommodate slimmed-down staff, will stay open.

“I feel sorry for them, but that’s the way it is,” he said.

He has already started packing up the restaurant, which he said he plans to sell or auction off. He’ll stay in the area, where his family lives and maybe, he said, will “sit down and rest for a while.”

Faulx is a reporter with The Press. Contact her at 701-456-1207.

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