Happy Dog’s Sean Watterson seeks to take on critical relief role in hospitality and workplace
In fact, he got off to a good start, a smooth transition from one ambitious problem-solving role to another.
Watterson – who Fund officials appointed this week to serve as lead consultant, hospitality talent and workplace builder – had been working in a similar, freelance role since Covid hit. The year-long full-time gig nomination comes at a fortuitous time.
“The timing is really good,” Watterson said. “(Co-owner) Tony (Cross) runs the Happy Dog…even though everyone sees my name. It won’t impact Happy Dog at all, and it will give me something to work on the same way I spent most of Covid working on the National Association of Independent Places Things.”
Watterson was instrumental in this consortium of independent clubs and helped secure the Save our steps legislation passed. The bipartisan-backed law established a grant program and essential financial assistance for an industry that has been battered during the coronavirus pandemic. Once the bill was passed, he helped guide a task force to ensure funds were going to the right places. Now that the funds have been disbursed, this work is ending as its current role begins.
The Fund for Our Economic Future is a way for philanthropic and civic leaders to explore what matters to a community and implement long-term equitable economic change through job creation. It is supported by a collaborative financial effort from the Cuyahoga County Department of Development, the Deaconess Foundation, and the National Fund for Workforce Solutions. Additionally, Destination Cleveland and the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission are “committed partners” in seeing Watterson and the initiative succeed, said Bethia Burke, president of the Fund For Our Economic Future.
“It gives me a perfect opportunity, and it also allows me to leverage the relationships I’ve built across the country,” Watterson said. “It’s going to be really important to focus on the local, but knowing what’s happening in other cities and seeing what works and seeing what people are trying is going to be helpful.”
Watterson’s ability to foster relationships is just one reason for his appointment, Burke said, citing his energy, drive, commitment and experience.
“Sean is clearly committed to the industry throughout his years of owning and running Happy Dog, clearly committed to the local economy from that perspective,” she said. “He has also demonstrated that he cares about both business and everything it takes to run a hospitality or catering business, and that he cares about his people. He really thought about how to support his Happy Dog employees throughout the pandemic. This bridge, recognizing that the places where people work are both businesses and environments for people, is really important for this work ahead.
With that charge, Watterson will have his hands full over the next year.
“I think there’s an awareness, and Covid has kind of exposed a lot of that, in the short term there’s difficulty for a lot of people, businesses in the hospitality industry, to find enough staff because people make decisions about what they want to do, or with omicron that just doesn’t have enough healthy staff,” he said. “It’s a challenge for all of us. In the longer term, he looks at these jobs in the hospitality industry. There’s a reason people don’t come back to some of these jobs. What can we do to create those better jobs, better opportunities? »
Finding those answers means taking on a monumental and imperative challenge.
“I think the end game is both short term and long term,” Burke said. “In the short term, the ability of places to be open and workers to have a sense of security and stability is important to the vibrancy of downtown, it matters to the vibrancy of places in the region – which can help to bridge this current uncertainty in a way that can provide some stability.
“Longer term, there have long been discussions about how to improve jobs for people, that there are real potential opportunities for entry-level work in the service sector for move on.”
The end game, she added, means using this opportunity to create a better place to work for people, and that means emphasizing career advancements, more stable shifts or something else. It’s about closing the talent gap, she said.
And with such a multi-pronged issue, the end game can be a bit nebulous.
“What I’ve come to understand over the past two years is that predicting is a fool’s game,” he said. “The last two years have been ‘being flexible and being able to adapt.’ When the vaccines rolled out and people were excited in June, we were having our best July ever. But delta came along, then omicron, and we’re hoping that omicron is what turns the pandemic into an endemic. But I’m going to m ‘defer to the scientists about this….I shut up and listen.
In 2008, Watterson was part of the team that took over the Happy Dog, a music and beer joint that embraced creative hot dogs and is seen as a business that helped revitalize Cleveland’s Gordon Square neighborhood. . Happy Dog survived a 15-month pandemic shutdown.
“I think being open-minded and creative is key,” he said. “That’s what got us through Covid so far. This challenge is a huge challenge. Covid revealed some things that were underlying issues.
The key is to make things better, and you need to be open to anything that can make things better – not just for business, but for the workforce. I am thrilled that there is an opportunity to think creatively. I think that’s one of the reasons they chose me.
He added, “It’s a lot of work, and it’s a systemic problem across the country. It’s a big effort, but we’ll at least start tackling it.
I am on cleveland.comfrom the Life and Culture team and covers topics related to food, beer, wine and sport. If you want to see my stories, here is a directory on cleveland.com. Bill Wills of WTAM-1100 and I usually talk food and drink at 8:20 a.m. Thursday morning. Twitter: @mbona30.
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