01 Nov 2013
- Written by Rosemary Jenkins
THE VIEW FROM HERE-Not too long ago I was watching a news magazine segment on television. It was highlighting the operational philosophy of a relatively new eatery in Michigan (not far from where I was born)—a place called Moo Cluck Moo. (The name in itself is quite intriguing, having been selected after doodles on a napkin by several guys who were at a pub and, after knocking down a few beers, made a spontaneous decision to start a fast-food take-out establishment with that moniker.)
I immediately contacted one of the co-founders, Brian Parker, who was kind enough to return my call that same day. His partner, Harry Moorhouse, is equally engaged in realizing their vision: offering healthy, low-salt (sea salt), hormone-free, quality food at good prices ($3 for a hamburger). They have gone so far as to hire a James Beard Award-Winner, Jimmy Schmidt, as their food design chef. Wow!
Their business model in just seven months is already so successful that there are plans to open two more restaurants and possibly a food truck in the near future. I suggested that they consider opening venues on the West Coast, like Los Angeles (an idea they will consider, I hope).
Now how does a fledgling business accomplish all this? Parker believes that you gain both employee loyalty and their hard work by treating them well and fairly (especially when time is given to train them properly—something that not all companies do, but an action that is very much appreciated by new-hires). In April of this year (when they opened), they started their workers at $12 per hour. However, when recent demonstrations across the nation were pleading for a living wage of $15 an hour ($31,000 a year), the two partners looked at each other and proclaimed, “We can do that!”
Today their staff makes $15 an hour with sick leave and a policy to take care of their health needs (I took the opportunity to clarify and make more palatable some points about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act—hope it helped.) Incidentally, the Moo salary is actually somewhat higher than what beginning Detroit police officers and teachers make. Does that mean we are expecting our officers and educators to go on welfare in order to make ends meet?
As for the costs for this enterprise, labor makes up about 40% and food costs about 30%. Parker asks, "How much does a CEO have to make to run a viable business? How much profit is necessary?” Good for you!! These are questions that must be asked of such big fast-food chains as McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Papa John’s, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, Domino’s, and Subway—companies presently being petitioned to offer higher wages.
Yes, companies on the Stock Exchange have a fiduciary responsibility to their shareholders, but we all have a moral responsibility to insist that all employers pay a living wage that includes at least basic benefits to the people that make their businesses profitable in the first place. The average at-the-counter and wait-staff workers make about $8.50 per hour without benefits. The excuse: Most workers are part-time college students (who, by the way, are working in the first place to pay for tuition) and seniors (who are working to make ends meet). Conversely, the burden on taxpayers amounts to about $7 billion a year—an amount which adds up to a $200 billion subsidy to the fast-food industry.
Apparently, Moo Cluck Moo’s business model is working very well, thank you, if it is already able to expand in less than a year. The company prides itself on what it represents to the community: It is purposely located in a working-class neighborhood, but also attracts customers from trendier hamlets.
It is a place which draws the community together. Customers can order on-line, simply drive through, or drop in. It sounds to me like an ideal little place with a big heart.
There are family-owned and small-chain restaurants across the nation and in Los Angeles that are attempting to pursue similar goals. Others, like The Habit Burger Grill and its new Hook Burger, are making every effort to erect buildings that are energy-efficient—with solar panels and low-use water and electrical devices inside.
Unfortunately, what I also see is that many businesses that are “green” don’t necessarily offer a living wage and those that pay well are frequently not energy-efficient. I see no reason why both goals cannot be achieved within the parameters of each business’s practices.
It has already been proven (see my previous Walmart article) that paying a wage of even $12.50 an hour would have a negligible impact on the bottom line and could be offset easily by adding only a few cents in cost to the customer (and that is when the company does not want to absorb the additional cost and lose even a penny of profit). Walmart has deservedly earned the reputation for paying low and asking the taxpayer to pay high to offset the difference. This is unconscionable and must not be allowed—we can’t let the Walmarts and Papa John’s take advantage of the very Government they claim is already too big yet seek subsidies from it when it is expedient for them to do so!
I don’t know about you, but I would certainly be willing to pay $3.80 for a Starbucks coffee rather than $3.75. And as for Starbucks, its owner, Howard Schultz, continues to lead the way by offering scholarships for its student employees, a share plan in the company, a reasonable wage, a concern for the environment, and so on. It is also working with other companies to establish and advance similar models.
There are countless examples of altruistic practices in the business world, but sometimes more recalcitrant and ostensibly inflexible corporate leaders need a bit more of a prod to move forward, to get with the program. President Obama speaks of a minimum wage of about $10 an hour—a modest request on the way to a minimum wage that would at length exceed what is currently poverty-level wages. Now that is change we can believe in and something we can all cluck about!
(Rosemary Jenkins is a Democratic activist and chair of the Northeast Valley Green Coalition. She also writes for CityWatch.)
Vol 11 Issue 88
Pub: Nov 1, 2013