Minneapolis 'geek pub' Byte, which paid workers $15 an hour, is closing

The owners had an ambitious plan to pay workers $15 an hour.
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The plan was ambitious: Pay all of the employees at Byte a wage of $15 an hour, whether they cook items offered on the economically efficient menu, or help clean the cafe area with board games and coffee on offer.

"We're not focused on getting rich off of this," Byte co-founder and chef Travis Shaw told GoMN late last year before Byte opened in downtown Minneapolis. "We just want to have a job where we can go home each day with a clear conscience knowing the people who are working for us are getting as much in return as they are putting in."

Sadly, eights months in, Byte is shutting down.

In a Facebook post Tuesday, the "geek pub," as it billed itself, said it will close before the end of the month because of money issues. 

"While we have enjoyed a steady and loyal customer base, we’ve also struggled with getting the volume necessary to make our business model fiscally viable in this location," the post reads.

Shaw and Mark Lowman set everything up to be as fiscally sound as possible, so it could offer employees the high wage rate, vacation time and benefits. The food was made from scratch, and used cost-conscious cuts of meat or cheeses. The ingredients could be made into a variety of dishes, so things could get out quick and required less labor to create.

They opened in March, offering an affordable hang-out spot to get coffee, play board games and grab a bite.

But Oct. 28 will be their last day of business.

"Opening Byte has been a roller coaster of an adventure but the love you all show for our food, concept, and staff is what keeps us going day in and day out," the Facebook post says, adding they've been "grateful for the overwhelming support."

They want to use their last couple weeks to celebrate everything they accomplished, so are asking customers to stop in to have their "favorite dish one more time." There will also be some closing specials, and a "Last Day Halloween Bash" (details to come, Byte says).

Byte is located at 319 1st Ave. N. in downtown Minneapolis. Commenters on Facebook have suggested they try to find a new location that isn't as expensive.

Minneapolis is on a slow path to a new minimum wage of $15 an hour, thanks to a vote this past summer. Large businesses (more than 100 employees) will see the minimum ramp up over the next five years, reaching $15 in 2022.

Small businesses in the city will have until 2024.

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