The New York City Mayor’s Office for Economic Opportunity has partnered again with One Fair Wage to offer flexible grants for BIPOC restaurant owner-operators. Restaurant owners in New York are encouraged to apply to the High Road Kitchens program by May 10. Accepted members must undergo racial equity training to improve labor hiring, recruitment, and performance management practices and commit to paying both tipped and non-tipped workers a fair wage.
High Road Kitchens program participants receive an initial $3,300 payment upon admission, $3,300 after training, and a final $3,400 after completing additional advocacy-related events. This is the third year of the High Road Kitchens program, which started during the pandemic and has previously partnered with the city’s Restaurant Revitalization Program.
One Fair Wage is a worker-focused national coalition advocating for a full minimum wage for all workers, regardless of age or ability status. According to the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, restaurants are permitted to pay a subminimum wage to workers classified as tipped, disabled, and full-time students. In New York, the subminimum wage is $8.80-10 an hour for food service workers, with tips closing the gap to meet the state’s $15 minimum. While restaurant owners are supposed to make up the difference if tips aren’t sufficient, workers have said this isn’t always the case. Restaurants Advancing Industry Standards in Employment, which oversees the High Road Kitchens program, is an offshoot of One Fair Wage that organizes restaurant owner-operators who are invested in a more equitable restaurant economy.
Participants can access various resources to support their transition to the $15 minimum wage for all employees. The High Road Kitchens restaurant website offers free tools to help restaurants adapt the economy of the restaurant menu and operations in adherence to higher ethical standards. This includes a racial equity toolkit and menu price increase calculator, which uses research from UC Berkeley and Harvard economists to design the formula.
The organization also offers monthly membership-wide panels covering traditional approaches to health care, open book management, service charges, and more in addition to regular policy and legislative updates.
Andrea Borgen Abdallah, the High Road Kitchens community manager and a former restaurant owner, noted that restaurants that stay engaged beyond the mandatory training have the most rewarding experience. Owners often informally reach out to her individually for advice.
“Speaking [as a former restaurant owner], there are so many distractions that it can be hard to remember to take advantage of the resources available to you,” she said, adding that the program is an opportunity to connect with other owners who share like-minded, community-oriented goals.
“Restaurant owners who really want to make changes are a bit of a rare breed,” she said.
Abdallah said that due to the size and geographic reach of their membership, leveraging the High Road Kitchens network is helpful for restaurant owners seeking advice on what operating models could work well for their restaurants.
Janel Inouye, a co-owner of the Sacramento-based Magpie Cafe and a High Road Kitchens grant recipient in 2020, underscored the value of connection. Magpie Cafe splits tips equally amongst all staff, which addresses the pay disparity inherent to the industry standard of pooling tips only within front-of-house staff.
“Many times, we’re working in vacuums and lose track of what everyone else was doing,” Inouye said. “What [High Road Kitchens] is doing is important, and I think it’s always good to have fresh eyes on what [restaurant owners] are doing to help us be better.”
Inouye also noted that the organization could improve the mandatory racial equity training. At the meetings she attended, the majority of participants were first-generation Americans and non-white.
“It’s just a different dynamic,” she said.
The Bronx-based restaurant La Morada also received a High Road Kitchens grant in 2021.
“We partnered with High Road Kitchens during the pandemic when business wasn’t doing great anywhere in the nation, so having additional support to ensure we have staff retainment and a livable wage for our employees was much needed,” said La Morada co-owner Yajaira Saavedra. La Morada has been involved in mutual aid for years, serving migrants and refugees. “Our activism goes far beyond the grant.”
Saavedra wants High Road Kitchen to do more to directly support mom-and-pop restaurants with lower revenue flow.
“It’s [One Fair Wage’s] responsibility to get as much information on the restaurants beforehand as possible and aim to serve the working-class BIPOC community: those that have been longstanding in those communities—and not just go by whatever is trending. I think High Road has tried to achieve that, and that’s something I respect, but there are some restaurants that I do question on their list.”
Saavedra notes that she would’ve wanted to see similar financial outreach and support for the neighboring restaurant owners in the Mott-Haven Bronx neighborhood that have less visibility than La Morada: pizzerias, fried chicken vendors, and Chinese takeout spots. “Those are the community staples that should be receiving as much help as possible to save New York City.”
The High Road Kitchens, which was initially piloted in California, is currently available for applications for BIPOC full-service restaurants based in New York and in Prince George’s County, Maryland. Applications are open until May 10. Results for the New York grant winners will be announced May 22.