Faced with staff shortages, Magic Fountain will close two days a week in August

The Magic Fountain will be closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays starting in August, according to owner Chaudry Ali.  

The popular Mattituck ice cream store, like many other businesses across the region, is struggling with chronic staff shortages. Mr. Ali said he takes pride in his customer service; meeting his own standards means taking time to recharge. 

“It’s a long day,” he said. “And to manage a lot of teenagers, somebody adult has to be here. I end up putting in 130, 140 hours a week and I just can’t. Physically, I can’t handle that.” 

Except for Thanksgiving, Christmas, the occasional storm and a week over the winter when staff will deep clean the shop — Magic Fountain has been open seven days a week since Mr. Ali bought the business in 2007. Current business hours run from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., but Mr. Ali or a manager usually starts to prep for the day at 5 a.m. The store has never faced a staff shortage like this before.  

“Usually, I’m turning people away because there’ll be two dozen applications sitting on my desk any given day,” Mr. Ali said. 

The past few years have been a little rough, he added. The pandemic limited his ability to train new employees, making last year particularly difficult. But that shortage has persisted into this summer, when more than 70% of the state has been vaccinated and people have started a return to life post-pandemic.  

Right now, he’s struggling to hire shift managers, scoopers, general managers — staff in every department. “You’ll get a laugh” at some of the applications that have crossed his desk recently, he said. Some applicants have requested $25 an hour, despite a lack of experience in retail.  

“For me to provide that and still have to teach them everything … this job, it takes six months to train someone the right way. And if somebody comes in and leaves in a month, it’s a lot of waste of time and money,” he said. 

Mr. Ali pays counter help $15 an hour plus tips. Cake decorators are paid more. A lot of students work at his shop, but they often pair the job with internships. 

“That’s their career,” he said. “I can’t ask them to leave their career and come back and work full-time. So the people that I have, they are giving the most they can.” 

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