Similarly named diner facing backlash from wage dispute

Posted at: 02/19/2013 10:41 PM
By: Maria Guerrero, KOB Eyewitness News 4

One business is being affected not only by the minimum wage but also by Route 66 Malt Shop not following the law.

Even after 26 years in business, Tom Willis’ diner is sometimes confused with a relatively new neighbor down the road.

"That's the Malt Shop, The Route 66 Malt Shop. We are the 66 Diner," said Willis.

A harmless mix up, until Route 66 Malt Shop owner Eric Szeman admitted he’s paying his employees below the city’s new minimum wage.

Szeman says it’s his effort to save everyone’s jobs.

"We've actually had people call and say, "good job" but we've also had a lot of people that are obviously confusing us," said Szeman.

"Actually I came thinking I was going to the Malt Shop and I wanted to come and support it,” said customer Todd Samuels.

There’s been so much confusion the first thing patrons see is a flier on the door saying: Route 66 Malt Shop is located at 3800 Central Avenue SE.

"He's chosen not to follow, we're following it,” said Willis.

Willis says the wage hike has hit him hard; cost of payroll went up about seven percent.

Even so, he’s paying up.

But what about other restaurants? Are they joining in on Szeman’s “civil disobedience”?

"I haven't heard of any other restaurants that have taken the position that he's taken,” said Willis.

"No, I will not join in. I will try to figure out a way to abide by the law," assured Marie Coleman.

Coleman, the owner of Church Street Café says she’s paying non-tipped employees at least $8.50/hr. and tipped employees $3.38/hr.

"The $3.38 is not the problem,” she said. “I think the problem is the $5.00 an hour that's coming up in a year."

Both understand the hardship business can bring but have this advice for the malt shop:

"He's going to have to do what I'm going to have to do and that's increase your prices," said Willis.

Szeman has said he simply can’t afford to increase his prices, but adds he fully intends to start paying his employees minimum wage in one or two months.