At Philly Restaurant, They Do Right By Employees

By Michael Hinkelman
Philadelphia Daily News.

PHILADELPHIA

Christian Mora, 38, and Brian Oliveira, 24, are co-owners of Girard Brasserie & Bruncherie in Philadelphia. They have attracted national attention for operating a no-tip restaurant and paying their staff living wages plus health insurance, sick leave and paid vacations. I spoke with Mora.

Q: How’d the idea for Girard come about?

A: I’d been in the industry for 15 years and wanted my own restaurant. I’d worked with great chefs, and Brian was somebody who was talented and passionate. We started sharing ideas and in the fall of 2013 we started looking for a space. We opened last November.

Q: The startup money?

A: I’d saved a lot, and Brian’s family helped, so it was all personal, just under a half-million.

Q: Was the no-tip model on the table from the start?

A: Yes. Brian lived in San Francisco for a while and sent me an article about a restaurant that had done away with tipping. We learned that turnover costs restaurants a lot. We crunched some numbers and gave it a shot.

Q: How are you able to pay staffers an average of $13 an hour plus full benefits?

A: There’s less on the bottom line because that’s where the money comes from, and costs such as rent have to be less, too.

Q: How much do owners forego to pay staff more?

A: I’d say about 10 to 20 percent of revenues go into higher wages and benefits that would otherwise go to the bottom line.
Q: The value prop?

A: We still have the staff we started with, and they all seem content. I believe a happy employee is a better employee.

Q: It also appears that patrons are having to shell out more, $31 to $42, for dinner.

A: That’s a three-course dinner. You can have a $10 lunch here. You can come in for dinner and have a delicious entree and you are under $20.

Q: Your customers?

A: Most are from the neighborhood and nearby. A lot of people like our business model. We’ve gotten suburban customers, too.

Q: Why don’t more restaurants use this model?

A: It isn’t easy, and profit margins in restaurants are small to begin with.

Q: How big a business?

A: Right now, we have five front-of-house staff and six people in the back of the house.

Q: What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced?

A: I had to be sharp about hiring. I want people who will stay in our company and grow, as opposed to a server who’s just here to pay for graduate school.

Q: What’s next?

A: I hope to grow the business 10 percent this year.

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