Hiring shortages, 70-hour weeks, reduced hours...

How the Trojan Horse is surviving the Great Resignation

The phone rings, again. Justin Posthuma dashes across the narrow kitchen to pick up.

“Thanks for calling Trojan Horse, what can we get for you?”

He calls out the order to the line cook manning the grill. Within five minutes, a stack of gyros and pitas sit on the restaurant’s front counter, ready for pick up.

Posthuma scrubs plates and pots and runs them through the commercial dishwasher. He negotiates a work schedule with a new employee. He refills ice baths to chill tubs of chopped veggies that don’t fit in the Trojan Horse’s fridge. He hurries back to the ringing phone.

At 1:30 p.m., Posthuma is six hours into his Wednesday shift as the restaurant manager at the Trojan Horse. Business is slow, but his to-do list is infinite. It’s been that way for months, as the restaurant grapples with the fallout from COVID-19. Not only have profits dropped since the start of the pandemic, the Trojan Horse has also faced a severe staffing shortage.

A man in a gray polo shirt and a black apron and a blue surgical face mask is seen through a window. He's standing in the Trojan Horse kitchen, focusing on a task while colleagues bustle around him.
Justin Posthuma is seen cooking Dec. 3, 2021, through the window of the Trojan Horse restaurant. Posthuma works 12- to 13-hour shifts at the restaurant, helping out in whatever role needs to be filled.

Last spring, a full kitchen staff dwindled to zero, leaving Posthuma and the owner to take over the cooking. Bartenders and floor managers became a thing of the past. Seven days a week turned to five and weekday closing time shifted from 11 p.m. to 8.

“When the world ended,” Posthuma said, “it flipped everything upside down.”

A couple blocks from the Trojan Horse, a paper sign hangs in the window of Potbelly Sandwich Shop.

Due to staffing challenges, we have temporarily limited operating hours. We apologize for any inconvenience.

Not all Bloomington restaurants have survived the tumult of the pandemic. Darn Good Soup, the Pourhouse Cafe, Grazie Italiano and Laughing Planet are among the casualties. The ones that remain are dealing with smaller crowds, supply chain problems and hiring shortages.

Sheets of printer paper adorn the storefronts of most restaurants on Kirkwood, like white flags of surrender. Taped-up signs at Lennie’s, Noodles & Company and BuffaLouie’s announce newly reduced hours. Almost every restaurant has a sign encouraging job applicants.



Five days a week, Posthuma arrives at the Trojan Horse a few minutes after the first rays of sunlight illuminate the restaurant’s red awning. He won’t leave until hours after sunset.

A restaurant manager doesn’t always work upwards of 65 hours a week. But servers and line cooks are in short supply, so Posthuma and the owner, Michael Shelley, have filled in, often working from sunup to sundown to keep the business going. They’re practically as omnipresent as the restaurant’s decades-old stove or its original wooden booths.

A row of wooden booths lead to the back wall of the restaurant, which is decorated with artwork depicting Poseiden.
The upstairs section of the Trojan Horse appears Dec. 3, 2021, at 100 E. Kirkwood Ave. The restaurant has been a Bloomington staple since 1978, according to its Facebook page.
A green fish swims near a fake plant in a tank that has a circular iron-lined door.
A fish tank appears Dec. 3, 2021, in the downstairs section of the Trojan Horse restaurant in Bloomington. The restaurant is decorated with old IU paraphernalia, as well as humorous signage.
A tray of food sits on a wooden counter. The tray contains two plates and a small bowl
A tray of food appears Dec. 3, 2021, at the Trojan Horse restaurant in Bloomington. The Greek appetizer, called Saganaki, is Fontinella cheese lit on fire and served with pita.

Posthuma has no typical workday. He slips between roles, acting as a server, dish washer, line cook, manager, bartender or whatever job is required to keep the Trojan Horse running. All these responsibilities add up to his de facto title of “the owner’s right hand.”

After his 12- or 13-hour shifts, Posthuma has just enough energy to sit on his porch, drink a couple beers, smoke a couple cigarettes and go to bed. Then he wakes up at 6:30 a.m., has some tea and a couple more cigarettes, and does it all over again.

He subscribes to multiple streaming services, but never uses them. If he has enough energy on Sunday, his only day off, he’ll teach classes on billiards or African drums, both of which he’s played since he was a kid. Then it’s right back to work Monday.


Posthuma started as manager right after the pandemic began. Throughout his tenure, employees have quit in waves. Last spring, no one applied to work at the Trojan Horse for about six months.

Posthuma estimated that during this period, he clocked in an average of 75 hours per week. Some weeks, he got up to 80 hours in. He doesn’t know the exact amounts because he doesn’t like looking at his time sheets.

“Sometimes, ignorance is bliss,” he said.

Posthuma hires all new employees. He said he doesn’t understand why so few people want to work at the Trojan Horse.

“Considering the fact that we pay people better to start than almost every restaurant in the city, I’ve been baffled by that, I’m not going to lie,” he said.

Posthuma said his friends in the Bloomington restaurant community are all facing the same issues. He thinks it might be related to federal COVID-19 stimulus payments allowing people to save more money during the pandemic, or an unwillingness to work after a year of staying at home.

Businesses across the country are also experiencing hiring shortages, while workers simultaneously quit their jobs in record numbers. The trend has been dubbed the Great Resignation, and restaurants have been affected at some of the highest rates of any industry.

Last year, U.S. workers resigned at abnormally high rates. The total number of non-farm workers who quit or changed jobs hit a record high in November at 4.5 million according to numbers released yesterday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. One million of those worked in leisure and hospitality, which includes restaurants.

The November numbers followed 4.2 million total quits in October and surpassed September’s previous record of 4.4 million.

A record number of Americans quit their jobs in November 2021*

4.5 million non-farm workers quit, including 1,002,000 leisure and hospitality workers.

Total non-farm quits rate

Leisure and hospitality quits rate

Economic recession

SOURCE | Bureau of Labor Statistics

* Data for November is preliminary

Posthuma isn’t the only one confused about the Great Resignation and its effect on businesses. Economists are unsure of its exact causes and how it might affect the labor force long-term — but they have come up with several possible explanations.

Some workers have been able to remain unemployed due to a spike in personal savings during the pandemic. Lower personal spending and money from federal COVID-19 relief and unemployment benefits have padded bank accounts.

Some had to quit jobs to care for their kids, as child care centers closed down or became unaffordable. Others had to quit because of health concerns.

Some are rethinking the role of work in their lives.

“This time at home gave them a chance to kind of re-evaluate, is this really what I want to do with my life?” said Kenneth Dau-Schmidt, an IU law professor who specializes in labor and employment law.

Quitting is more attractive to a lot of workers right now because there are so many job openings, Dau-Schmidt said. With so many options, people are likely confident they can find a different position at any time.

As more employees quit, remaining workers move up to higher paying jobs as better opportunities arise. But this leaves low-wage businesses, including restaurants, the most severely understaffed.

However, Dau-Schmidt is optimistic about what the Great Resignation could mean for the future of the labor market. He said American workers haven’t had this much bargaining power since the 1970s.

A man in a red collared shirt and wire-rimmed glasses smiles in a wood-paneled room

Kenneth Dau-Schmidt
Photo courtesy of IU

“It should mean better wages and benefits,” Dau-Schmidt said. “The restaurants have to offer better working conditions and higher wages, otherwise they aren't going to get people to work for them.”

Despite the positive impacts of higher bargaining power, the struggle continues for restaurants with unfilled positions, like the Trojan Horse.

Mandi Priest checks on customers in her serving section Dec. 3, 2021, at the Trojan Horse in Bloomington. Priest worked at the Bloomington Hospital 60 hours per week before she found out that she could make more weekly working part-time at the Trojan Horse.

A couple of months ago, the Trojan Horse lacked kitchen staff. So two or three times a week, Mandi Priest went in early to make baklava.

She piled layers of paper-thin phyllo dough on a metal pan, brushing each one with butter. Every few layers, she coated the dough with a mixture of sugar and nuts. Then more butter. More phyllo. More nut mix. She baked it, then finished it off with a layer of simple syrup.

A woman wearing a black mask, a black blouse and a server's apron walks toward the camera, wooden booths on either side of her
Mandi Priest checks on customers in her serving section Dec. 3, 2021, at the Trojan Horse in Bloomington. Priest worked at the Bloomington Hospital 60 hours per week before she found out that she could make more weekly working part-time at the Trojan Horse.

Priest wasn’t hired to be a baker. She’s a home cook, but has no official culinary training — her main job is serving. But as staffing has dwindled, employees have picked up work in other areas of the restaurant.

Server Letty Marquez worked at the restaurant for about two months. She’s been in food service in Bloomington for about 10 years, and she said the managers at the Trojan Horse have been the most understanding and flexible.


She used to work as a manager at Bub’s Burgers, but she quit and applied at the Trojan Horse after a relative recommended it. The managers at Bub’s were strict, and she wanted more time to spend with her child.

For Posthuma, supporting employees like Priest and Marquez is a big reason he puts in so many hours at the restaurant each week.

“It’s not just running a restaurant,” Posthuma said. “It’s not just giving them a job, it’s working with them. Being a part of their life, being a friend.”

The restaurant is family oriented. The employees joke with each other. Posthuma will brag about how nice one server is, or how another is a two-time world champion clogger.

Sometimes managing gets difficult, he said. Coordinating everyone’s schedules takes a lot of time each week, and if he can’t find someone to cover a shift, that work falls back on him or the owner. But it’s rewarding.

One of the servers is training to be an Air Force pilot. A member of the kitchen staff is working his way up the ranks of the National Guard. Several employees are full-time students with a course load. A few are moms.

“I like to support people that are trying to build a dream,” Posthuma said.

Priest flips open her server book, which is decorated with Van Gogh’s “Almond Blossoms,” and squints at the guest check inside. For each item ordered, she taps a series of buttons on the Point-of-Sale machine by the Trojan Horse bar to log the purchase.

Priest has thinning optic nerves, which cause gaps in her vision. When she started at the Trojan Horse, Posthuma noticed that she had trouble seeing the POS machine. So he made the font bigger and alphabetized all the items to make it easier for Priest to use.

A woman with red hair, purple glasses, a black face mask and a black blouse holds a cashier's checkbook and a pen as she listens to a customer
Mandi Priest takes customers' orders Dec. 3, 2021, at the Trojan Horse in Bloomington. Priest uses a server book decorated with Van Gogh's "Almond Blossoms."
A woman in a black dress and server's apron fills a drink on the left side of the image while two customers walk past on the right
Mandi Priest fills drinks Dec. 3, 2021, at the Trojan Horse in Bloomington. “I’ve not had this level of acceptance for my personal needs from an employer ever, other than subcontracting with one of my best friends," Priest said about her managers at Trojan Horse.

“Accommodations as an adult are hard to come by unless you really fight for them,” Priest said. “It's not the norm to have a boss intuitively look at your performance and see what can improve, and Justin did that.”

The Trojan Horse has accommodated Priest in more ways than one. She can keep her afternoons open to pick up her 9-year-old son from school. If she gets a sudden migraine during a shift, Posthuma or Shelley will send her home and find someone to cover for her.

“They’re so supportive of me as a mother, as someone who has chronic illness,” Priest said. “I’ve not had this level of acceptance for my personal needs from an employer ever, other than subcontracting with one of my best friends.”

This support is one of the reasons Priest serves, despite having two degrees, including a master's in human development and family studies from the IU School of Public Health.

Another reason is the pay. Earlier in the pandemic, Priest got a contract to work security at IU Health Bloomington Hospital’s emergency department. She was the first person patients saw, and she checked in people suffering from protruding bones, open head wounds, heart attacks, overdoses and COVID-19.

She worked some 60-hour weeks at the hospital that paid less than one 20-hour week at the Trojan Horse. Now, as a part-time server, she is better able to cover living costs for her and her son, and she has more time to be a mother.


When Priest first started at the Trojan Horse in March, she was a couple months behind on rent. Money was tight. Michael Shelley, the owner, offered free meals to employees, and she would often take him up on a gyro.

“It was sometimes the only meal I got,” Priest said. “My food was going to my kid.”

Serving also comes easily to Priest, who enjoys being around people. Work doesn’t preoccupy her thoughts like it did when she was always on call as the owner of a small cleaning business, or when she worried about getting COVID-19 from patients at the hospital.

“There is immediate gratification in the work that I do,” Priest said. “I take their order, I take care of them, I entertain them if they want to be entertained, I bring them good food, they eat, they finish up, they leave, I clean up for them. They leave me money for that. I don’t have to think about it later.”

Priest has no plans to quit her job at the Trojan Horse. The schedule allows her to have a life outside of work. She’s working on writing a dystopian book series about a brother-sister vigilante detective duo, and teaching a dance class at Wild Orchid Aerial Fitness & Dance called “Burlesque for Body Confidence.”

She also wants to return to school for a second master’s degree in neurocounseling so she can become a licensed mental health counselor — a goal made possible by the flexibility of serving at the Trojan Horse.

On a chilly November Friday evening, customers fill about half of the booths that run the length of the Trojan Horse’s narrow wood-paneled interior.

A couple with a toddler munches on cinnamon pita points and baklava ice cream, one of the restaurant’s signature desserts. In the back corner, another couple sips a baklava milkshake through two straws. A man props up his foot on his booth, beer in hand, chatting with the server behind the bar. A brown paper takeout bag with “Nom nom soup! Have a great night! :)” written on it sits in the neighboring booth.

The voices of Frank Sinatra and Jerry Lee Lewis emanate from the restaurant’s speakers. If it weren’t for the smart phones and face masks on almost every table, it would be difficult to tell what decade it is.

A brown wooden door with a circular glass window and four large, iron, slightly rusted chain links instead of a handle. In the window, paper signs reading 'Closed on Sundays & Mondays' and 'Please wear a face mask & maintain social distance' are visible.'
The door to the Trojan Horse restaurant on Dec. 3, 2021, in Bloomington. The door of the Bloomington restaurant uses chain links as a handle.

The experience of eating at the Trojan Horse has changed very little since it opened at the corner of Kirkwood and Walnut in 1978. There’s a new owner now, and the building’s brick facade was restored a few years ago, but almost everything else has stayed the same for 44 years. The spice blend used to make the gyro meat, the baklava recipe, the wooden booths, the giant wooden front ship’s door with chainlinks for a handle.

Priest said she’s had customers who bring their kids and reminisce about coming to the Trojan Horse with their parents when they were young. One couple visited on the 10,000th day of their relationship because they had their second date there.

“Part of coming to the Trojan Horse is that nostalgia,” Priest said.

This reputation as a fixture in Bloomington’s restaurant scene has helped keep the place alive through COVID-19 lockdown and an economic recession. In the past few months, as people venture out to eat, more customers have frequented the Trojan Horse.

In the past few weeks, the restaurant has had several days with close to pre-COVID-19 profits. In October, it hired half a dozen new line cooks. A couple servers, including Marquez, have since quit, but Posthuma is happy that they’re moving on to new opportunities.


“That’s what we’re here for: To help families,” he said.

There’s still a ways to go in building back a full staff and regaining pre-pandemic levels of business, but Posthuma hopes he might soon enjoy a bit of daylight after work.

Even if he can’t, he’s confident his dedication will pay off. He has no intentions of leaving his job at the Trojan Horse until he retires, and he said there’s no way the restaurant will close.

“There’s too many people in this town that will absolutely refuse to let that place crash,” Posthuma said. “People will rally to keep that place alive. That’s a guarantee.”