While most fast-food companies are fighting to keep minimum wages low, one pizza chain’s founder is going in the opposite direction.
&pizza, a Washington, DC-based chain with 21 locations, is fighting for a $US15 minimum wage — not only for the fast-casual pizza chain’s own employees, but for all Americans.
“We’ve been on the forefront as one of the few restaurant chains that has put a stake in the ground and said that this is really important for us,” CEO Michael Lastoria told Business Insider. “I think change can happen there. It will just have a massive impact on society.”
Lastoria is a member of the advocacy network Business for a Fair Minimum Wage, which includes executives from chains like Ben & Jerry’s and Wetzel’s Pretzels. He has also met with Obama’s Secretary of Labour, Thomas Perez, to discuss the business advantages of increasing the minimum wage.
According to Lastoria, other chains are ultimately going against their best interests by opposing minimum wage raises, an error he believes is driven by public companies’ need to cut costs and achieve speedy financial growth.
“Wall Street praises short-term profit,” Lastoria said. “They’re not thinking long term.”
As a private company, founded in 2012, &pizza has the opportunity to make decisions that Lastoria believes will pay off in the long run, even if they break from industry traditions. That includes making pizza fresh to order in front of customers, adopting a bold style in designing shops, and focusing growth in urban centres — all decisions that are in stark contrast to the delivery-centric model of chains like Domino’s and Papa John’s.
&pizza pays all of its employees at least $US15 per hour, which Lastoria said has led to reduced turnover and greater internal leadership. According to the Bureau of Labour Statistics, the average fast-food worker made about $US9.84 an hour as of May 2016.
Not every fast-food CEO is convinced on the benefits of raising the federal minimum wage.
Andy Puzder, the former CEO of Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s and Donald Trump’s first pick for secretary of labour, has argued that raising minimum wages would result in companies replacing workers with robots.
Many restaurant executives, including
Sonic’s CEO, believe that higher minimum wages will result in higher prices for consumers.
Currently, federal minimum wage in the US is $US7.25. In 2017, 19 states will raise their minimum wages, increasing pay for an estimated 4.4 million hourly workers.
Ultimately, Lastoria has a slightly different mission and strategy than most restaurant executives. Instead of rushing to expand through franchising, &pizza has decided keep all locations company-owned, in part to allow for greater adherence to his values, which include paying employees well and maintaining food quality.
“The job of an entrepreneur, executive, or a business person isn’t necessarily to just focus on shareholder values. It’s to take care of the people who come and really devote their time and energy and life force into the company,” Lastoria said. “I think profit is really a byproduct of doing the right thing.”
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