Stillwater cafe thriving after 'minimum wage fee' flap

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A little Stillwater cafe that became the focus of a griddle-hot controversy over the state's newly raised minimum wage is doing brisk business despite the flap, KSTP reports.

The River Oasis Cafe has done more business than ever during the last two weeks since a single restaurant receipt – which noted the cafe's new 35-cent "minimum wage fee" – reheated the pay standard debate, restaurant owner Craig Beemer told the station.

An irked friend of a customer had posted a photo of the receipt to Facebook, which sparked a social media debate and caught the attention of Minnesota and national media.

At issue is the state's minimum wage law that went into effect Aug. 1, which incrementally raised the standard to $8 an hour for large employers ($6.50 for small businesses). The rate will rise to $9.50 (large employers) and $7.75 (small employers) by 2016.

Cafe critics said that adding a "minimum wage fee" on a restaurant tab was political grandstanding – a cheap shot at advocates of the wage hike, as well as disrespectful to cafe employees. DFL Gov. Mark Dayton called Beemer's fee "tacky."

But Beemer said he was just seeking to recoup profit losses created by the minimum wage hike – not make a political statement. He added that his workers backed the move, and many customers have offered support, too.

"Our decision to offset the recent increase in minimum wage was what we believed to be the most honest and transparent way to communicate a significant increase in our operating cost. Rather than raise menu prices, we decided to charge a flat fee per guest check." Beemer and his wife said on the cafe's Facebook page.

Beemer told the Pioneer Press earlier this month that he had been worried about what effect the controversy would have on his business. "It's scary," he had told the newspaper. "This is how I make my living."

But he told KSTP this week that business had been great in recent days. "I am an unwilling participant in the minimum wage debate this has caused," he told the station.

During the controversy, Beemer had landed in the Washington Post and on NBC's "Today" show:

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Blue Plate changes stance

Meanwhile Wednesday, facing a backlash, the St. Paul Blue Plate restaurant chain announced that it would stop charging its wait staff a 2 percent fee on tabs paid with a credit card, a practice Blue Plate recently implemented to help offset the minimum wage hike and higher health care costs.

Blue Plate Wednesday also said it would offer non-tipped employees an additional raise, giving them a minimum wage of $9.69.

"Blue Plate is a family of small neighborhood restaurants and we value the hard work of our employees more than anything,"owner David Burley said in a press release. "Before we were founders we were servers. We’ve reflected and decided to try a different approach that will give our communities a clear indicator of who we are as a business."

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