A new restaurant opening in the Twin Cities is committed to providing workers a livable wage. And giving customers a comfortable place to find their inner nerd.
After many years in the business, chefs Travis Shaw and Mark Lowman were frustrated with the problems plaguing the restaurant industry – long hours, hard labor, and traditionally low wages.
They wanted to open a fun and affordable hang-out spot that operates efficiently while still taking care of its employees.
So they founded Byte, a geek pub/cafe opening in Minneapolis' Warehouse District this March. It will pay all the employees – from cooks to dishwashers – $15 minimum wage, plus offer vacation time, and benefits.
"We're not focused on getting rich off of this. 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," Shaw told GoMN.
What the heck is a geek pub?
Shaw said Byte will be a laid-back space to grab a coffee or beer with friends, eat tasty comfort food, and embrace your inner geek.
"We ourselves are huge geeks. We love sci-fi, superheroes, board games, etc. This is our first restaurant and we've put so much of ourselves into it with our social philosophy and business model that we might as well also let it be an expression of our love for all things geek," he said.
Their love for nerdiness will be reflected in the decor, the artwork, and the dedicated area for board gaming.
As far as the grub, Byte's menu will feature affordably-priced and made-from-scratch appetizers, salads, wraps, sandwiches and rice bowls inspired by global comfort and street foods.
"It's the sort of ingredients and flavors we love, but it's also the sort of food that originated from cultures that didn't have a lot but were able to create really satisfying flavors out of what was available. To us this is the soul of cooking and it's the comforting everyday food people won't mind having again and again," Shaw said.
They'll also offer fair trade drip coffees and Asian milk teas, as well as local beer and wine.
The economics of it
So how will they be able to pay employees $15 per hour while staying affordable?
They keep food costs down by choosing economic cuts of meat like chicken thighs, flank steak, pork shoulder and paneer cheese for the vegetarian dishes, he said. Plus they're using ingredients that can be made into a variety of dishes, and serving them up fast service assembly style – requiring less labor so they can pay each worker more.
"We're sick of how this industry chews people up and spits them out. We work with these people, we get to know their families and their struggles and I just can't work another day where I have to look one of my cooks in the eye and tell them that their labor isn't worth a living wage because it absolutely is," Shaw said.