Hell's Kitchen applauds minimum wage increase

One of the Twin Cities' busiest restaurants actually thinks the minimum wage increase that went into effect August 1 isn't enough.

One of the Twin Cities' busiest restaurants actually thinks the minimum wage increase that went into effect August 1 isn't enough.

Though restaurants like the River Oasis Cafe in Stillwater and the Blue Plate family have made no secret about not being fans of Minnesota's first minimum wage increase in nearly a decade, one downtown Minneapolis restaurant has embraced it.

Pat Forciea, marketing director for Hell's Kitchen, tells us management and ownership at his restaurant "strongly supported the minimum wage increase."

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Forciea says Hell's Kitchen has 146 employees. Only servers make the minimum wage, but nonetheless, as a "large company" under the law, the increase from $6.15 to $8 for servers will cost the restaurant "a little more than" $50,000 a year.

"One aspect of the minimum wage debate that we find particularly hypocritical is that I don't remember any instances in which a restaurant's senior management team (or owners) specifically told their customers they were implementing a price increase so they could raise their own salaries," Forciea writes in an email. "I don't know of any restaurant that has listed that line item to their receipts -- this appears to be only happening when it involves minimum wage employees."

Nonetheless, Forciea acknowledges that Hell's Kitchen's upper management "understands concerns that smaller restaurants have."

"But we feel strongly about the increase being the right thing to do," Forciea says. "The dollar amount we're talking about is still modest. It's overdue and it's not really enough, but it's an important first step."

In fairness, however, Hell's Kitchen's profitability probably isn't impacted as dramatically by the minimum wage increase as are smaller businesses like the River Oasis Cafe. Forciea tells us that with 340,000 customers served last year, Hell's Kitchen actually had the largest volume in the Twin Cities.

Nonetheless, Hell's Kitchen even resisted pressure from the Minnesota Restaurant Association, which was opposed to the minimum wage increase.

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"We were asked [to come out against the increase] by various restaurants, and the Minnesota Restaurant Association took a pretty strong position in opposition to the increase," Forciea says. "We are a member of the restaurant association and were asked if we'd lend our support to their efforts to stop it, but we explained why [we wouldn't] and they were fine about that. It's an issue we've believed in for a long time."

On August 1, the day the first incremental minimum wage increase went into effect, Hell's Kitchen made its position clear on its Facebook page, writing:

Congratulations to everyone and anyone who just got a raise with today's minimum wage increase. (For a full time worker, this increase still doesn't even reach $20,000/year.)

We fervently believe that going from one of the lowest minimum wages in the country to one of the highest will not just help workers march toward a more livable wage, but also help Minnesota's economy by putting more dollars into hands who can then support local businesses even more.

And while our hearts go out to the much smaller employers who struggle with this increase, as a "large employer," we're happy to continue investing in our employees and share more of our profits with the very same people who help us continue to successfully grow.

Regarding that post, Forciea says Hell's Kitchen "wanted to make sure our customers knew exactly what our position is on this issue before the pretty predicable public debated sparked up.... The feedback we've received has been quite amazing."

Send your story tips to the author, Aaron Rupar. Follow him on Twitter @atrupar.