Thursday, September 4, 2014

Living Wage Trend Growing Organically in Durham, NC Restaurants

To talk with Gray Brooks about the subject of staff as family, it’s easy to get confused. Though not blood relatives, his employees are highly valued because they are involved in the common goal of serving customers well with the best product available at Pizzeria Toro in Durham.

In the view of Brooks, and his partners Cara Stacy (also his wife) and Jay Owens, as well as owners at other Durham establishments like Monuts Donuts and Cocoa Cinnamon, staff members deserve to earn a living wage. In a town so focused on doing things locally, welcoming diversity, and removing barriers to entry, this trend isn't a surprise.

"These are just a few examples of the brand values many restaurants in Durham represent,” said Shelly Green, President and CEO of the Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau (DCVB). The organization regularly touts the local focus of the community because it rings true in so many measurable ways. “Durham is known for helping businesses grow from concept to completion with the support of the community. That local restaurants value employees by paying them a living wage and offering benefits just furthers the reach of that cycle of support,” Green added referring to the fact that employees fairly compensated can be active consumers in the community they serve.

“We have a living wage guarantee for all tipped bar hours for all crew members,” says Leon Grodski de Barrera who owns Cocoa Cinnamon with his wife, Areli. He added that Cocoa Cinnamon also has a minimum wage of $13 per hour for all non-tipped work, as well. The specialty coffee and chocolate beverage cafe in Durham has had tremendous success in part because its passionate staff cares about the work, their products, and customers at the same time. On this wave of success, a second location for the business is in the works now at the corner of Trent Dr. and Hillsborough Rd.

“We value the full cycle of food from farmers to those preparing it,” said Lindsay Moriarty of Monuts Donuts.  For Moriarty, and her husband and business partner Rob Gillespie, this is not only about fairness, but it’s also good business. The two are moving their business to the location formerly occupied by the Magnolia Grill on Ninth St. – a space more than twice as large as the one they currently occupy.

“It’s great to see local businesses and the community of Durham taking steps to care for their staff appropriately by their own volition, and not in response to outside pressure,” said Green. “It says a lot about our community.”

Brooks is succinct in his position and sums his thoughts up nicely. “Our employees are worth it. They are the reason we are successful,” he said.

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