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Northbound owner: If you don't want a tip credit, we don't want your business

Northbound Smokehouse & Brewpub in south Minneapolis [Image courtesy of Northbound]

Northbound Smokehouse & Brewpub in south Minneapolis [Image courtesy of Northbound]

Jamie Robinson has had his fill of these "15 Now" people. 

Robinson, owner and brewer at Northbound Smokehouse Brewpub in south Minneapolis, is one of the more active and vocal backers of the "Pathway to 15" campaign, a bar and restaurant movement seeking to influence the minimum wage debate in Minneapolis. Restaurant owners and servers on that side of the fence say they do want the city's minimum wage to rise to $15 an hour, eventually.

But they also want servers' tips factored in as part of their wages, a provision commonly known as either a "tip credit" or "tip penalty," depending on one's support or opposition to it. (Minnesota is among fewer than 10 states that don't allow employers to pay tipped employees less than the minimum wage.)

Lately, Robinson's noticed that his political activism has turned Northbound's Facebook page into a political arena. According to Robinson, supporters of the "15 Now" movement, which wants a $15 minimum, with no exception for restaurants, are leaving negative comments -- not about Northbound's food or beer, but about its owner.

He says he's seen similar criticisms aimed at his friend Heather Bray, owner of the Lowbrow bar/restaurant, who has gone on record with City Pages and the Star Tribune about wanting a tip credit.

Last week, Robinson decided he was so sick of those critics, he didn't want any more of their money. If any of them showed their "hypocritical face" in Northbound, and Robinson recognized them, they'd be "escorted right out the door in shame," according to a Facebook post screenshot.

In another post, Robinson wrote, "If the 15 Now folks want to hate me, I'll give them a legitimate reason. Stay the hell out of my brewpub!"

Robinson doesn't regret that, and isn't backing down.

"The fact they're going on to the Facebook pages of local, independent small businesses, and basically trashing them... of course, I take that personally," Robinson says. "What their misinformation is doing is promoting regressive policies, and tricking the public into thinking their proposals are progressive."

Robinson says moving the city's minimum wage to $15 an hour without a tip credit would mean servers and bartenders would earn something like $28 an hour, though cooks and other non-tipped employees would have to wait for their own wages to gradually reach the $15 level.

"Restaurants will adjust to that... but it's not going to be good for the servers," he says. "Servers understand that, and that's why they're organizing." 

That's a reference to Pathway to 15, though obviously some servers are organizing on the other side, as well. In a recent post on Medium, servers affiliated with 15 Now depict Pathway to 15 as an extension of the Minnesota Restaurant Association (MRA), which they describe as "a corporate lobby with a history of opposing workers' rights."

In one passage, those servers write: "While workers who support the MRA’s campaign were encouraged by owners to attend events and compensated with drink specials at a Pathway restaurant afterwards, service industry workers who disagree are shouted down, bullied online, and have to go to work the next day wondering if they still have a job."

Both sides regularly accuse the other of spreading "misinformation" about what imposing a $15 minimum would mean for the local restaurant scene.

Robinson, for his part, says he could "squeeze by for one year" with minimal changes to his business, but after that would need to add a "service fee" to menu items. He claims supporters of 15 Now are trying to "destroy tipping" altogether, and says that's one reason why they can take their business elsewhere.

"The way I feel about it is, if you're fighting against the livelihood of my servers, you're not welcome in my brewpub," he says. "That may not be a popular view. I don't want customers who want to destroy my servers' income."