Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day!
While not a typical restaurant holiday in that we don’t spend alot of time working on our MLK pasta menu or promoting specials inspired by Dr. King’s many speeches. This is a day to reflect why we’re in business and whether there is a social justice component to our existence. I spent several hours yesterday with my children at Hebrew school, where they had a special program about immigration and, specifically, refugees. We learned alot and heard many stories and I had to think, are we on the path we intended to better our community while running a successful business that serves great pasta.
We went into business wanting to make a difference for our employees, providing them a safe space to work and a living wage. This has been a struggle. As we tried to move away from a tip based system that demeans restaurant employees and keeps many servers on food stamps, we had push back but we are now in a place where more of our employees and customers appreciate and understand the context of this fight. This could not be any clearer now as the current administration tries to make tips the property of the owners – a roll back of an Obama regulation that was designed to protect employees who still make $2.13/hr but that actually has made our quest to share tips more difficult. The current regulation will make it easier for us but has no guarantee that tips should stay with employees and no requirement that owners inform customers where their tip is going.
We have begun an internship program with the nearby technical school bringing in students who would not otherwise have access to some of our equipment or our products. They may not go on to be professional cooks, but they are learning more about health, nutrition and making choices that feed their families and not the pocketbooks of the industrial food world.
Dr. King is a challenging, provocative figure. His dream did not stop with people not being judged by the color of their skin. I believe his was a dream of real equality of opportunity. If a place that serves great pasta can work some of Dr. King’s teachings in to the fabric of their business than anyone can.