Restaurant Owners Have Recipe for Success with Significant Minimum Wage Increases

Chuck Sheketoff

There’s Jerry Scott from Elmer’s restaurants, “a northwest favorite since 1960." (PDF)

And Zach Poole of the Pig ‘N Pancake restaurants, serving breakfast (and more) on the coast and in Portland since 1961. (PDF)

And John Lenz, co-owner of Jaspers Café, “the best burger joint in Medford,” which opened its doors in 1976. (PDF)

And don't forget Vickie Irish from Shari’s restaurants, which began in Hermiston in 1978 and has grown to 100 restaurants in six northwestern states. (PDF)

What do they all have in common? They are all board members of the Oregon Restaurant & Lodging Association (ORLA). And they all run restaurants that thrived in the years following Oregon’s last legislatively enacted minimum wage increase. They each know the recipe for success while the wages of their lowest-paid workers rise.

In mid-1989, the Oregon Legislative Assembly increased the minimum wage 42 percent by January 1, 1991. That three-step increase over (less than) two years is on par with the calls for raising the minimum likely to be introduced in next month's legislative session. Raising the minimum wage to $13.50 by 2018 would amount to a 46 percent increase over 2 years.

Each of the restaurants mentioned above was in business before the 1989-1991 increase, and is still in business today. Some have even grown, opening new locations and creating new jobs.

When the legislature convenes hearings this week and then again next month to discuss the minimum wage, expect ORLA to oppose the increases. No doubt we’ll hear restauranteurs or their lobbyists predicting economic catastrophe.

Oregon lawmakers ought to convene a panel of Scott, Poole, Lenz and Irish and have them explain exactly how their restaurants weathered the 1989-91 increases and the increases since. They know first-hand the recipe restaurants should follow to thrive after a significant legislatively-enacted minimum wage increase. The legislature ought to give them a forum to dispel the fears of the naysayers.

And the next time you hear Negative Nellies from the restaurant industry decry the proposed increase, tell ‘em to follow the same winning recipe for success used by Elmer’s, Shari’s, Pig ‘N Pancake and Jaspers Café.


Oregon Center for Public PolicyChuck Sheketoff is the executive director of the Oregon Center for Public Policy. You can sign up to receive email notification of OCPP materials at www.ocpp.org.

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