Pierogi Mountain emerges from pandemic with pledge to pay workers a living wage
Matthew Majesky's employees will now make at least $15 an hour in an effort to 'reevaluate how we value our people' in the restaurant industry
Since launching Pierogi Mountain out of a window inside Café Bourbon Street several years ago, business partners Charlie Greene and Matthew Majesky have worked every possible job in the restaurant. They know the hard work involved as a line cook, server, dishwasher and more.
They’ve also worked in the kitchens of other restaurants. Sometimes, at the end of long nights as line cooks, they’d watch bartenders cash out with far more take-home pay and think to themselves, “Hey, we worked hard, too.”
Earlier this month, as Pierogi Mountain began to emerge from a long, tough pandemic year (which also included a move Downtown last summer), Majesky and Greene realized they needed to hire more staff, and during those conversations, Majesky said they were hit by “the blinding flash of the obvious.”
“These people are making the food. They're doing this work, and they need to be fairly compensated for that,” he said. “We have to do whatever it takes to get them there. There's no more going, ‘Oh, we can't afford it.’ We have to figure out a way to afford it.”
On May 14, Pierogi Mountain announced that every employee will make at least $15 an hour.
“If the restaurant has a bad night, that's not your employees’ fault. Our policy is that if your shift ends and it was a crappy night and you didn't make at least 15 bucks an hour, then we'll make up the difference,” said Majesky, who noted that staff whose income doesn't incorporate gratuities will have a base pay of $15 an hour. “It's important, especially these days, to have some sort of guarantee that you're going to be able to pay your rent.”
In the Facebook post, Majesky also informed customers that raising employee wages would require an increase in food prices, though part of that increase is due to rising costs elsewhere in the business, from gloves to onions. Plus, the restaurant pledged to shift from Styrofoam to eco-friendly containers, which cost more.
Pierogi are now $2 each, and on Tuesday nights, which previously featured $1 pierogi, the dumplings will cost $1.50. (The restaurant is also fattening up its pierogi with more filling than before.) Overall, Majesky estimates the average customer will see about a $1 increase in their food orders.
Since making the announcement, Majesky said the reactions from employees and customers have been positive, aside from a few online trolls lobbing accusations of communist policies. And he has no patience for any arguments that claim restaurant staff are “unskilled workers.” “These jobs are hard,” he said.
Majesky also noted that $15 is merely a starting point; the goal is to increase wages more in the future, along with paid vacation and more sick days. “You shouldn't have to choose between being sick and going to work,” he said.
Majesky issued a charge to other restaurants, as well, urging them to follow suit and pay their employees at least $15 an hour. ”Anybody making less than a living wage, it's just ridiculous anymore, and I think it's time for employers to evaluate [their situation] and do whatever they can to get there,” he said. “I think it's important for us as an industry to reevaluate how we value our people. … It should keep you up at night if your people can't afford to pay their rent, or they're going home worried about that.”
The charge didn’t fall on deaf ears. Majesky said some local business owners have reached out to learn more in hopes of making a similar change. “I hope maybe we inspire some people and that more people come out in favor of doing stuff like this,” he said.
Majesky also hopes the increase in wages, along with the modest increase in food prices, will educate customers about what it takes to run a restaurant. “It's not some magic box that your food automatically comes out of,” he said. “There's costs associated with everything.”
Even more than that, Majesky looks forward to the day when paying workers $15 an hour isn’t notable. “Treating your employees like human beings shouldn't be newsworthy,” he said.