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State Wage Board’s Proposed Increase Raises Concerns Locally
By Arthur Gonick
SARATOGA SPRINGS – On Friday, Jan. 30, the New York State Wage Board, after several months of hearings, recommended that tipped workers’ minimum wage be raised from $5 to $7.50 per hour. This recommendation would affect all wait staff and bartenders at restaurants and other hospitality venues. The increase, if accepted by the Commissioner of Labor, would take effect on Dec. 31, 2015. The recommendation had the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo, who said in a statement: “For far too long, wages for tipped workers in New York State have been too low.”
However, in Saratoga Springs, which has a large number of restaurants and bars per capita in comparison to other cities, it was no surprise that local restaurateurs expressed several areas of apprehension about the implications, for both patrons and workers, if the recommendation is adopted.
“We’re very concerned,” stated Nancy Bambara, Vice President of DZ Restaurants, which has four establishments in Saratoga County. “I’d personally like to see where they (Wage Board) got their research.”
Bambara noted, “Most of our servers make a good living already. For us, a new requirement like this, on top of mandates like health care, makes it harder and harder to do business.”
“People don’t realize that in order for us to be competitive, we need to be make sure we are pricing our menu properly. All our restaurants’ (Chianti Ristorante, Forno Bistro and Boca Bistro in Saratoga Springs; Pasta Pane in Clifton Park) margins are exceedingly small.” She added.
Should the wage board recommendation be accepted, Bambara believes that it won’t be long until consumers feel an impact.
“We’ll do what we can – aggressive marketing, for instance, to try and keep the customer’s coming in. But it’s hard to believe that, with this percentage increase, we can hold the line on prices forever.”
Regarding worker staffing and hours being impacted as well, Bambara didn’t rule that out, and added. “We would have to look at everything, including the employees. We take pride in having things like staff awards and other creative incentives; we may not be able to retain these.”
Bambara also took the Wage Board to task for favoring a blanket increase to everyone statewide outside of New York City: “Our situation here has to be considered. We are in a resort area, but we operate year-round, not just at peak times, and try to keep as many on staff as we can.”
Robert Lee is the long-time owner of The Wishing Well Restaurant and recently opened The Brook Tavern. Regarding the potential wage increase, he stated succinctly:
“Ultimately, any new cost is passed on to the consumer.”
And while Lee did not specifically speak to the potential impact on employee’s jobs and/or their hours, he did state, “Restaurants are not any different from other businesses that are always looking to increase their efficiency while continuing to deliver a great product.”
While other restaurant owners declined formal comment, they were universal in expressing frustration, and in some cases, anger that the state was adding another burden to them.
One who had no reluctance to speak out was John Baker, owner of Gaffney’s Restaurant since 1982. “Let’s say I’m not too happy.” Baker said.
“Most of our tipped workers are making a very good living, so I don’t think in our case this kind of percentage is justified. In my experience, most of our employees who take tipped jobs do so because of the income they can derive.” He said.
Also, he was concerned that raising the pay rate for one subset of employees was unfair. “What about dishwashers and line cooks? Don’t they deserve an increase?”
Other restaurant owners also stated that the impact on non-tipped employees was barely taken into consideration by the Wage Board, even though these workers might bear the brunt of the impact should the increase go through.
While Baker said he would do all he could to keep employees and hours at current levels if the increase is adopted, he did state that, “all pricing will need to be examined.”
He offered an international perspective, and felt it wasn’t one that people here would favor, “In other countries, Australia for instance, tipping is a non-factor. In that case, you have wait staff that makes $20-25 per hour, which impacts all your costs. Eventually the customer pays – in some cases twice what we pay here for the same menu item. I don’t think people here want to go that way.” Baker concluded.
Tim Holmes, Co-owner of BWP and The Wheatfields Restaurants in Saratoga Springs and Clifton Park, as well as the current President of the Saratoga Springs Downtown Business Association, recommended the comments of The New York Restaurant Association. Their comments mirror the concerns expressed by local restaurant owners.
In a release, Melissa A. Fleischut, CEO and President of the Association, stated: “Increasing the cash wage will hit small businesses hardest, and hurt the backbone of the restaurant industry, back of the house workers. There’s only so much money a restaurant can spend on labor, increasing the wages, the people who earn the most in a restaurant, leaves the owner with fewer resources for back of the house staff.”
After the Wage Board recommendation, in a call for the state Labor Commissioner to reject the Board’s recommendation, Fleischut added: “This decision will handcuff small businesses’ ability to create jobs, decrease the pay of non-tipped employees, and reduce hours for tipped employees. Nobody won today.”
New Executive Chef Renews Its Unique Flare on Broadway
By Taunia L. Kipp
For Saratoga TODAY
SARATOGA SPRINGS – Don’t let the name fool you, The Wine Bar of Saratoga has been a culinary gem in the spa city for many years in addition to its great selection of wine and spirits. Recently, the Broadway-based restaurant and lounge announced a new Executive Chef and dinner menu to even further enhance the restaurant’s dining experience along with some other recent and planned changes to help revitalize their unique flare.
In recent months, Owner and Operator Melissa Evans has been taking progressive steps to renew the restaurant’s energy and to create a refreshed customer experience.
“We’ve been in business for 14 years now and have been generally happy with the experience that we’ve been able to create for our patrons,” said Melissa Evans. “But I’m excited to make some changes in order to create some new energy. My goal is to encourage new customers to visit us for the first time and previous customers to discover The Wine Bar all over again. We’re not just about great wines. We¹re also about great food, a welcoming atmosphere and exceptional service.”
In December, Evans hired hospitality veteran Matt Campion as the Restaurant’s Manager. Campion studied hospitality management and boasts several years of high-end restaurant management experience including his most recent work with Mazzone Hospitality having worked at both 677 Prime in Albany and serving as Restaurant Manager at Prime at Saratoga National.
Changes since Campion’s arrival include the introduction of a new cocktail menu and plans for a regular live entertainment schedule along with planned events such as wine parings, cigar tastings in the restaurant’s NY state certified smoking lounge and other activities at the restaurant and lounge.
“We need to offer a unique experience,” says Campion. “Broadway has so many great bars and restaurants that we need to make a distinct impression on those who visit us. We do that by offering a variety of outstanding reasons to come in the door: the food, the wine, the smoking lounge, the entertainment and the service. There’s a reason for everyone to come in and we know that once they do, they¹ll always come back.”
Also this month, Evans introduced her new Executive Chef, Cameron Nealey to the team and unveils a new menu. Nealey studied under renowned chefs from Thomas Keller's world famous French Laundry located in California¹s Napa Valley and also at Keller's Manhattan-based, Per Se Restaurant. Getting his start in the Saratoga Springs area at Siro's under Chef Tom Dillon, Nealey says that the new menu at The Wine Bar will be a collaboration of his experience with multiple cuisines, his passion for fresh ingredients and his goal of producing flavors that "Everyone can relate to".
The new menu will feature what Chef Nealey refers to as “elevated comfort food.” He says that these are dishes that give you the warm, homey feeling of eating something delicious while being presented in a new and modern fashion. “I've been really fortunate to train under some world class chefs throughout my travels,” says Nealey. “To be able to return to my hometown of Saratoga and to showcase what I've learned is truly a dream come true.”
The new menu is now available. The restaurant is located at 417 Broadway and is open Monday through Saturday from 4 p.m. until Last Call with dinner being served until 10 p.m. Reservations are recommended for parties of four or more by calling (518) 584-8777. For more information, visit thewinebarofsaratoga.com.
BALLSTON SPA — On the last weekend in September, Ballston Spa’s Fifty South and Saratoga Springs’ One Caroline Street Bistro are both supporting local, organic food and farming by donating a percentage of their evening revenue to the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York (NOFA-NY). Currently 14 restaurants around the state have signed on to donate a portion of their proceeds to NOFA-NY. The fundraising event is part of the NOFA-NY Locavore Challenge, a month-long challenge to inspire awareness and action in eating locally and organically through events and activities held around the state and online.
Owner Kim Klopstock opened Fifty South after living sustainably for 30 years on a 7-acre farm with her family. The restaurant now uses practices like sourcing its ingredients locally, composting, and recycling and repurposing.
“I wanted to make sure that these personal ideals and convictions were honored not only in my personal life but my business life as well,” Klopstock said. “Community and sustainability are the heartbeat of what we are about—keeping it local as much as possible, realizing that sometimes local can mean in our state, in our region and in our country, rather than just within a designate mileage of where we live,”
Fifty South sources from area farms including Kilpatrick Family Farm, Argyle Cheese and Minglewood Farm.
“It has been a treat to see the slow food movement grow as well as the popularity of the farmers markets. Who would have ever thought it would be chic to shop at the farmers market and to eat at a farm to table restaurant?” Klopstock asked.
Run by the Pedinotti family, One Caroline Street has been operating in Saratoga Springs for almost 20 years, and using local produce has always been part of the family’s mission.
“My dad is a pioneer in that he has always supported local farms,” said Elizabeth Pedinotti-Haynes. “Even before there was a farmers market in Saratoga, we would drive out to the farms to pick up food.”
The menu at One Caroline changes daily based on the availability of organic locally sourced ingredients.
“We have a vegetarian farmers market special and a market salad on our menu, and we shop directly at the farmers market on Wednesday and Saturday for the ingredients for those dishes,” Pedinotti-Haynes said. “The chef really likes that part of his job; it’s creative and he enjoys interacting with the farmers.”
The goal of the Locavore Challenge has always been to connect consumers with their local organic farmers and to encourage local consumption and education. This year, NOFA-NY is expanding the challenge, hoping to strengthen communities through local collective initiatives and encourage engagement in state and federal policy change that supports local organic food and farming.
“The Locavore Challenge is an opportunity to celebrate the bounty of New York’s organic and sustainable farmers as well as to grow the movement of consumers seeking local organic food,” said NOFA-NY Executive Director Kate Mendenhall. “I am thrilled that hundreds of people across the state will join in this celebration and mobilize positive change in food policy. I encourage community members to support restaurants who source from local organic and sustainable farmers on the evening of the Harvest Dinner and into the future.”
Harvest Dinner at Fifty South: Sunday, September 29 from 5 - 9 p.m. 2128 Doubleday Avenue, Ballston Spa and 20 percent of proceeds to NOFA-NY.
Harvest Dinner at One Caroline Street Bistro: Sunday, September 29 from 5 to 9 p.m. 1 Caroline St., Saratoga Springs, 20 percent of proceeds to NOFA-NY.
Sponsoring the challenge are Once Again Nut Butter and “Edible New York” magazine.