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Milwaukee's Honeypie Cafe Staff Discuss Adopting One Fair Wage Model

Honey Pie Cafe
Honeypie Cafe
Honeypie Cafe in Milwaukee's Bay View neighborhood now follow the One Fair Wage model for all workers.

Out of the millions of people who lost their jobs during the coronavirus pandemic, one in four was a restaurant worker. As restaurants have reopened, many workers have not returned to the sub-minimum wage they once struggled to live off of.

One Fair Wage is an advocacy organization that’s pushing towards eliminating the sub-minimum wage for tipped employees in the service industry. Here in Wisconsin, the lowest wage is $2.33 an hour with tips to supplement. PIE Incorporated, the company that includes Honeypie Cafe, no longer employs the traditional payment model and only follows One Fair Wage practices for both front and back of house workers.

Valeri Lucks is the founding partner and CEO of PIE INC. Lucks explains how they adopted the new pay model during the pandemic. "Because we had to basically create like one role to get food out the door for takeout or delivery or whatever we were doing, we automatically had to shift everyone's wages to a higher wage, we started tip pooling, and we liked it so much that we said that we were never going to go back. And we haven't."

Sai Kilps, the general manager of Honeypie, started right before the cafe closed due to COVID-19. She says that the direction the cafe was moving in is what interested her in applying. "I was looking for this industry work. But with the added, like, bonus of moving the industry forward and away from what it used to be."

The pay isn't the only aspect of working in the food industry Honeypie Cafe hopes to change. Caitlin Mahan joined the staff before the lockdown as well, and she says this pay model brings restaurant staff together. "I've worked in kitchens for like the past nine years, pretty much and this kind of was my incentive to leave my old job...because I think it kind of makes everyone work more as a team versus there's always been like a war between front of house and back of house," Mahan says.

The staff at Honeypie Cafe is optimistic about the One Fair Wage pay model and feel it's a step in the right direction for all restaurants. "When we experienced this through the pandemic, we were like, we're never returning to the other method," Klips notes. "Again, because this has brought people together, it's definitely a more one-for-all-attitude, which I think translates into better service overall. You look to larger cities, you see more and more restaurants across Chicago doing this, you see more and more restaurants in New York doing this. I truly believe this is the wave of the future because the old system is broken, it's been broken for 200 years."

Audrey is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
Kobe Brown was WUWM's fifth Eric Von fellow.
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