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Food & Drink

Restaurateurs band together to employ workers affected by Ellicott City floods

Bartender Ashley Jennings, 29, was working at the Phoenix Emporium on Ellicott City's historic Main Street on Saturday night when the flood waters came rushing in.

"It was wild. The entire thing happened in about 20 minutes," said the Pigtown resident. "The water went from puddles splashing over the sidewalk to cars being swept away."

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Water with floating debris filled the main floor. Windows were broken, sidewalks were washed away, Jennings' car was wrecked, and come Sunday morning, she was unemployed.

But that day, she was contacted by Alex Belush, 28, who created the closed Facebook group "Keep Ellicott City Working," where restaurant owners and concerned citizens were posting job openings in the region.

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Within days, Jennings was able to find a job at Quigley's Half-Irish Pub near Camden Yards — just walking distance from her home.

"I start in a couple hours. I'm really excited," Jennings said Wednesday afternoon.

"The Facebook group is a godsend," she said, "a really positive note after a pretty tough week."

Belush started the Facebook group on Sunday afternoon after learning that the floods had washed through Main Street, damaging many of the bars and restaurants in its path.

Like many others, Belush, a former bartender who works in marketing, said he just wanted to help.

"I was thinking, 'Oh my god, everybody's going to be out of work. We should probably connect them with people," he said.

Belush invited restaurateurs, managers and residents and workers affected by the floods to the group. From there, it snowballed, he said, amassing more than 850 members as of Wednesday afternoon and more than 50 postings about job openings all over the region.

"People in the service industry — we're close and very much a family," he said. "This is the kind of time that people come together and help each other out."

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Carrie Podles, co-owner of Huck's American Craft in Brewers Hill and Papi's Tacos and Alexander's Tavern in Fells Point, has offered up numerous part- and full-time positions at each of her restaurants, including line cook and dishwashing positions in the kitchen, as well as serving and hosting positions.

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Positions are available for as long as they are needed and "if we don't have a fit for somebody, we can refer them to other restaurants that can help them," said Podles, who has already gotten a few inquiries since Sunday. She has an interview with a server Thursday.

"It's going to take awhile for Ellicott City to build," said the Catonsville resident, who lives two miles from Main Street. "These people are more than welcome."

Trenton O'Connor, the former general manager of the Horse You Came In On Saloon in Fells Point, has hired six bartenders from Ellicott City who will be serving drinks at the inaugural "First Friday" event in Fells Point later this week.

O'Connor said the live music event had been in the works for a few years. But when he heard about the historic flooding in Ellicott City, he decided to hire the bartenders, who would otherwise be out of work.

He posted in the "Keep Ellicott City Working" Facebook group about the job opening and got a response from bartenders who worked at Ghost Lounge Hookah Bar and The Phoenix Emporium, both affected by the floods.

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"They are super ecstatic to have the opportunity to work and make some sort of income," O'Connor said, adding that bartenders for the Horse You Came In On Saloon were more than happy to give up their shifts to accommodate them.

"They're all extremely grateful, and they keep thanking me," he said. "I'm grateful to be able to have the opportunity to do it."


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