Amid staffing struggle, Dallas restaurant owner tries a robot reboot

Southwest

DALLAS (NewsNation Now) — The restaurant business is beyond difficult and one Dallas chef is fighting to keep his restaurant alive after more than a year of constant adjustments.

Taco Borga says COVID-19 has scared many of his customers away and rising food prices across the country have slashed profits.

“It’s not that it’s complicated, you have to be a magician nowadays to figure it out,” said Borga.

But Borga’s biggest challenge these days is staffing.

Two years ago, 10 to 15 people a month walked into La Duni Latin Cafe asking for a job. He says not a single applicant has shown up in nine months, and two-thirds of his staff has left.

“You don’t have cooks, you don’t have servers, you don’t have managers, you don’t have bartenders,” he said. “But you have people at your door screaming, ‘Why on earth do you have all those tables and you can’t seat me?’ Well, I can’t seat you because I don’t have anybody to serve you.”

After studying his staff, Borga found servers spend 70% of their time going back and forth to the kitchen delivering food and drinks … if only he could figure out how to buy them more time. 

That’s where the fleet of robots come in.

“It was all cool; I love it. I’m sure it makes it easier for the servers, you got eight or nine plates on your arms — just put it on the robot and go,” said customer Eric Fleming. “I like squealed, ‘Oh my god, it’s so cute!’”

In fact, word has gotten out that the robots are working the line at La Duni and their allure is putting customers in seats.

Borga just hopes it will be enough to help him hang on.

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“Right now the name of the game is not making money, it’s not even breaking even, it’s survival,” he said.

The robots are not cheap. They run about $16,000 apiece, but Borga was able to finance them. Each one costs him about $300 a month. He says that’s what an employee would cost him for about two days.

Borga stressed he does not want a robot restaurant and they’re not taking jobs away from people. He would much rather have full staff back, but until that happens, he’s going with the robots.

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