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Food-O-File

What's stopping restaurants from providing higher wages and health benefits?

By Virginia B. Wood, Fri., Sept. 6, 2013

Austin Beer Garden Brewing Co.
Austin Beer Garden Brewing Co.
by John Anderson

Though I didn't make it to the Drag in time to catch the fast food workers strike and march for higher wages on Aug. 29, I'm glad to see the issue of better pay for all restaurant workers become part of the public conversation. The homegrown quick/casual restaurant chains owned by K&N ManagementRudy's Country Store & Bar-B-Q and Mighty Fine Burgers, Fries, and Shakes – offer better than average base wages to new employees. Allyson Young, human resources and brand director for K&N, explained how a business model that focuses on quality works to their advantage. "Better pay allows us to attract and recruit better employees and helps us minimize turnover. Our service team members start at $10, bussers at $8.50-9, and cooks range from $13-15. If we don't have the best people on the floor, we can't guarantee our mission to delight our guests." K&N also offers 90% paid health insurance to all employees working 30 hours or more, long before the impending mandate. So now I've got a question for the majority of restaurant owners: If successful eateries like Rudy's and Mighty Fine (and others, such as P. Terry's) can minimize turnover and maintain profitability offering higher wages and benefits, what's stopping you?

Reminiscing about absent friends at The Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival last month brought to mind regular competitor and frequent winner Ruben Rodriguez, who passed away in 2012. Many Mexican food lovers remember Ruben as the talented chef/owner of Evita's Botanitas, home of the famous chip tower surrounded by a stellar selection of house salsas. The good news for former Botanitas customers is that Juanita Rodriguez and her son, Ruben Jr., are now available for catering, festivals, and special events. Contact them by phone at 512/350-8287 or online at www.botanitas-tx.com.

It was bound to happen – the lot at the corner of Jessie Street and Butler Road where Nessa Higgins and Andrea Day Boykin operate Flip Happy Crepes has been sold for development. After nearly seven years, the local food-cart pioneers are looking for a place to relocate their vintage Airstream and possibly sell their successful business. For more details about their situation, check out our On the Range blog this week.

A stretch of West Oltorf has emerged as a busy wine and beer thoroughfare over the past week with the opening of the new tapas and wine bar, Winebelly (519 W. Oltorf, in the former Green Muse Cafe space), and the debut of the long-awaited Austin Beer Garden Brewing Co. (1305 W. Oltorf) in an old rental warehouse by the railroad tracks. Both spots are offering limited menus – Spanish-influenced tapas at Winebelly and pizza and sandwiches at ABGB – and early reports from our contributors are positive.

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