As owners of restaurants in Los Angeles, we wanted to weigh in on the current debate about the proposal to raise L.A.’s minimum wage. Some claim that restaurants like ours will be hurt by raising the wage and that workers who receive tips should be exempted from any legislation. However, we are restaurateurs who support a $15 livable wage with enforcement, and we believe that both of these need to apply to all employees, including those receiving tips.
First, it’s the right thing to do. Los Angeles is an expensive city and we want our employees to not just survive but be able to provide for their families and have full lives. Secondly, it helps out our bottom line by preventing high turnover and thereby reducing our training costs. It also levels the playing field – it’s not fair competition when some businesses steal from their workers, while businesses like ours are following the law.
We put our heart and soul into our businesses and created them not only out of love for food, but for our communities. From sandwiches and smoothies to Salvadoran pupusas, we are part of L.A.’s large and diverse community of small businesses.
We know, contrary to recent claims, that none of our employees is getting rich off of tips. Some days are slow while our restaurants are unexpectedly packed on others – we can’t always predict the number of customers, the size of parties or orders, or how much of a tip will be left, if any. That’s why we recognize that it’s important to provide a solid minimum wage. We can’t force employees to solely live off of tips because tips are so unpredictable.
Being first-generation business owners, we’ve learned from scratch how to run a restaurant. We take pride in the fact that we feed people and provide jobs for our local community. It’s not easy. There are a million things to consider, from inventory and staffing to the menu.
One thing we do not compromise on is how we treat the people who work with us. Our employees are the key to our restaurants’ success as they run the daily operations. A restaurant is built on a foundation of mutual trust and respect between employer and employee – when employees are taken care of, they can work with focus and energy. Taking care of employees includes fair compensation.
Every employee should receive the minimum wage – it’s a minimum standard. Paying a separate, subminimum wage to employees who receive tips breaks the mutual trust and respect that is critical to run an effective business. Just as it is an employee’s responsibility to work with professionalism and make customers happy, it’s an employer’s responsibility to pay the minimum wage. Nothing less.
We acknowledge that it’s not going to be easy to raise labor costs but we support measures like technical assistance from the city, a phase-in process, and a common-sense hardship waiver. These are fair strategies to raise the minimum wage while supporting local independent businesses like ours. We believe that by taking a proactive stance and developing a business model that incorporates a livable wage and employee retention, Mamita’s Delights, Manifesto Café and many other businesses like ours can thrive. In fact, with a livable wage, community members will have more disposable income to spend at restaurants like ours. As the children of low-wage workers who now run our own businesses, we understand firsthand the importance of making enough to raise a family with a sense of security and peace of mind. We support a livable wage for all Angelenos.
Claudia Lopez and Estefanie Lopez are co-owners and co-founders of Mama’s Hot Tamales, a pan-Latin restaurant and catering business in MacArthur Park. Hassan Del Campo Nicholas is co-founder of Manifesto Café, a market and café in northeastern Los Angeles.