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May 8, 2005
St. Paul, Minn. — Some workers are looking forward to getting more money in their paychecks now that Minnesota lawmakers approved a $1 increase in the state's minimum wage.
Gov. Pawlenty says he's supporting the bill raising Minnesota's minimum wage to $6.15 an hour.
The pay hike will go into effect in August. It's the first time in eight years the state has increased the minimum wage.
But some small business owners are worried the hourly increase will put an extra squeeze on their profits.
The Dari-ette Drive-in has been a family-owned restaurant on St. Paul's East Side for 54-years. Angela Fida is a third-generation owner of the Dari-ette.
"My grandparents started it with my father and then my father and mother met here and then I'm born and raise here and I'm still here," she says.
Not much has changed over the years at the Minnehaha Avenue restaurant; car hops still bring your order to your car and home-made Italian food is still the speciality.
"And you can't say that we're fast food because everything is cooked-to-order. But we cook-to-order-it fast," Fida says proudly.
Angela says what has changed is the financial stress she's facing. High gas prices have increased the delivery fees she pays her suppliers. Because her drive-in is open from April through October, she already pays her 24 workers a bit more than minimum wage; that ensures they will come back to work season after season.
Angela says she's now afraid the $1-anhour raise in the state's minimum wage could force her out of business.
"Being that I'm seasonal my menu is already made; I can't change my menu. It's going to cost me more wages in money, number one, and then my tipped employees make minimum plus their tips. And then I'll have to give all of them -- I have seven on the payroll -- I'm going to have to give them a dollar raise. I'm going to take a bite," she says.
Angela Fida says she's amazed that her father and mother managed to raise four daughters and see the Dari-ette grow. She says she's being squeeze from all sides and it's getting harder to make a profit.
"I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask for outside help. I'm afraid I'm going to have to go for grant or something --some kind of help. And then I'm going to wind up paying a loan or some sort of interest rate. I feel it's just another thing to help set me back. And I don't want that I want to succeed in this. It's just an honoring thing to carry on a family business. It's real honoring and real sad at the same time to think that I could be the one when it goes under. I mean that's a heavy load on your shoulders too."
Most of her employees at the Dari-ette are high school or college students, not the main wage-earners of their household.
Ter Lor starting working at the Dari-ette when he was 15. He's been there for four years and is now a cook. Lor is getting ready to graduate from St. Paul's Harding High School and says he likes his job and he's not anxious to be making $1 an hour more.
"When I started, I started at minimum wage," he says. "I didn't really mind much because I knew I would work my way up. That will be good for people who start but for the people that own the business I think that will be a shock for them because if you don't have a lot of business going you won't be able to pay your employees.
"It could go either way. If you go work for a huge company they always have business and it's good. But for a small business like Dari-ette I don't know how that could go on."
Angela Fida says she wishes state lawmakers gave small businesses like hers more time to plan for the wage increase. She says once Gov. Pawlenty signs the bill, she'll have to begin paying her employees $1 an hour more in August. That will make the end of her season difficult.
"But we've been here 54-years and I hope to be here another 54," she says.