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Great piece in the Seattle Times about Tom Douglas, described as "Seattle's most celebrated restaurateur," who also happens to be the owner of Etta's, the bar and seafood restaurant there that I have written about numerous times over the years. (Etta's is where Morgan, who I've called one of the world's great bartenders, works.)

Douglas is hardly a knee-jerk liberal. He opposed the mandatory sick leave law passed by the city in 2011. He lobbied against increased parking rates. And he is against the notion of a public policy that would mandate a $15-per-hour "living wage," noting that "I'm just not for government intervention in that way ... A lot of businesses that are only starting out couldn’t handle that."

But Douglas has been in business for a long time, and so he knows exactly what he can handle.

"Starting this pay period," the Times writes, "Douglas is raising the minimum wage for cooks and bakers in the kitchens of his 16 local restaurants to, coincidentally, $15 an hour. Previously a cook started at around $12 an hour — so this is a 25 percent boost in the kitchen base pay scale, overnight.

"He’s also raising the minimum wage for dishwashers from $10 per hour to $12 — a 20 percent increase.

"He calls it his 'Cooks and Chefs Minimum Wage Initiative.' It will cost, he projects, $1.3 million in its first year. (He’s not raising wages for waiters, who get paid primarily in tips.)

“'Cooks are an undervalued, awesome profession,' Douglas enthused. 'I’ve always been in a labor-intensive business that unfortunately hasn’t paid very well. I decided after 25 years, I was in a position to try to change that.' ... Douglas had planned a major wage increase for his lowest-paid employees last year but delayed it due to the city’s sick-leave ordinance. That law was not as much of a burden as he thought it might be, though it ended up costing his company $350,000 in the first year."

“My goal isn’t to force anyone to do this,” Douglas tells the Times. “I couldn’t have done it back when I was starting out. So no, I don’t support a $15 minimum-wage law for my industry. But take McDonald’s. It seems to me that once you can open restaurant after restaurant after restaurant, then you can start to take better care of your employees.

"So if by raising what I pay I can hire away some of their better employees, over time maybe they’ll have to pay closer to what I pay. Same with other successful restaurants. That’s how it spreads."

The story makes the point that "with the way the political winds are blowing, it seems his fellow capitalists around here have a choice. You can follow Tom. Or you can take your chances with the government."

In other words, companies may be able to prevent government intervention ... if they address the issue instead of just going into defense mode.
KC's View:

I should point out that I'm an enormous fan of Tom Douglas. (The crab cake sandwiches at Etta's are better than almost anything, and I've never had a bad glass of wine there.) One of the things I've noticed over the years that I've eaten at his restaurants is that the faces and names of the folks who work there remain largely the same, suggesting that people are happy with the work environment and how they are treated. I've heard from a number of people I know that Douglas inspires enormous loyalty in the people who work for him, and even has invested in restaurants that have been opened by former employees.

I find this new story fascinating, and it makes the point that I've been trying to make here on MNB. Douglas clearly recognizes that his restaurants only are as successful as the cooks who work there ... and that they need to be rewarded. Sure, it costs him money ... but he wouldn't be making money without them. He could replace them with cheaper workers, but would that mean sacrificing effectiveness for efficiency? And, at the end of the day, how much profit is enough?

This isn't about a mandated $15-per-hour "living wage." It is about corporate mindsets and values.

Tom Douglas, IMHO, has his in the right place.