How one family business overcame staffing challenges and opened a new restaurant

Opening a restaurant at the tail end of a global pandemic hasn’t been easy. For Lisa Poole and her family, experienced restaurateurs in Spokane, it meant overcoming the challenge of this year’s labor shortage.

Mossuto’s Italian opened in Spokane on Nov. 30, 2021, in time for the holidays and a few months before Gov. Jay Inslee relaxed the statewide mask mandate. It is the third restaurant Lisa and her family own. The Poole’s also own both Poole’s Public Houses in Spokane.

“Coming through two years of COVID has been a nightmare,” Lisa said. It has been easier for her to find front-of-house employees than it has been back of the house, especially line cooks.

“It’s been an eye-opener,” she said of the labor shortage. She noted that many of her employees have worked to put themselves through school. After graduating, they’ve moved on to what she called “big boy” or “big girl” jobs.

She said that until recently, she had never had to place an ad on Indeed or Craigslist but relied on word of mouth and Facebook to find her teams. Some of her staff at Mossuto’s came over from the other restaurants. She said that she likes to get to know her team on a personal level. It’s important to be nice and understanding and be there for her team.

“People like working for a family business,” Lisa said. Mossuto’s employs 17 people, many of whom are part-time.

Finding a talented team wasn’t the only solution the Pooles found to the labor shortage. At one point during the height of the pandemic, the two pubs shut down on Mondays for a month and a half.

Lisa and her husband, Scott, have been in the restaurant business in Spokane for nine years since they opened the first Poole’s Public House on the north side of town. Six years ago, they opened the second Public House on the South Hill. The restaurant business runs in both of their DNAs.

In 1907, Lisa’s great-grandfather, Giuseppe Mossuto, immigrated to Spokane from San Marco in Lamis, Italy. Her grandfather, Angelo, was born in Spokane, as was her mother, Patty. When Lisa was growing up, the family would gather for Sunday dinners with traditional Italian cooking. It was during this time her mother developed the recipe for one of the restaurant’s most popular dishes, lasagna swirls. When Lisa’s own children were growing up, she took over Sunday meals.

While Lisa was growing up, she worked at a Pizza Haven in high school where she met Scott. Scott bartended and for a time worked at Northern Quest Casino. His dream was to open his own place by the time he was 50. It came true just four months before that milestone.

These days, the couple gets a lot of help from their three sons. Tony and his wife, Lauren, are part owners of Mossuto’s. Tyler is part owner of the South Hill Poole’s and Trevor and his wife, Haylee, are part owner of the north side Poole’s.

The two said there have been some surprises after opening the Italian restaurant. Lisa was surprised that tables don’t turn over as fast as they do in a sports bar. Guests take their time enjoying the meal. Scott said Mossuto’s takes the time to make their own pasta in-house. He said in Italy everything was about the pasta. In America, everyone is all about sauce.

“That was the biggest thing we had to change,” he said about putting the emphasis on sauce, although the restaurant is experimenting with different flavors of pasta, like red pepper.

The Pooles are looking forward to a busy summer in their new restaurant. A farmers market opens in the parking lot every summer and the Pooles are going to open a patio for patrons to enjoy during the warmer months. They also plan to extend their hours into lunchtime. They agree that they have a wonderful team and know that part of being good owner-operators means showing their people that they care about them.

“I think if you take care of your employees and treat them right, they stick around,” Scott said.