With the rising minimum wage, it is clear that low wage workers will now have more money in their pockets, but how will local businesses hold up when faced with a significant increase in labour costs?
Ryan Wright, owner of Village Flatbread Company, seems unfazed.
“Obviously it’s going to affect everybody, but outside of what I’d like to think of are unrealistic ideas, then no, there’s nothing specific that concerns me about the future,” Wright says.
Wright feels it’s important to pay his employees a living wage from the beginning. He wanted those who worked for him to have a sustainable lifestyle, and that their jobs fulfilled their needs economically.
Full-time employees work no more than 44 hours per week, giving them time to focus on other aspects in their lives, such as school or extracurriculars.
“We’ve always tried to be aggressive and pay as much as we can, so our staff are as happy as can be. They, in turn, treat our customers as well as can be and everyone is just happy in general,” he says.
In an industry notorious for overworking and underpaying staff, Wright makes sure his restaurant is an outlier.
He aims to create a safe space with mutual respect and balance between employer and employees.
“You read about the Walmarts of the world who don’t pay their staff enough and then they end up living off of food stamps and government subsidies, which everybody pays for,” he says. “I just don’t believe in that, you know?”
Besides ensuring his staff and customers are happy, Wright also tries to create a community-within-a-community. He focuses on buying natural and organic products from local farms, businesses and producers while creating great relationships with them. Companies like True Büch, a Calgarian kombucha company, are both suppliers and customers, which adds to the welcoming and community-oriented atmosphere.
“That was sort of the whole idea as to why it’s called the Village Flatbread Company. It’s right in the name there. Everything is based on creating a village and needing a village for everybody to thrive.”
As well as being a local and organic pizzeria, the Village Flatbread Company also prides themselves on being 100% gluten-free and halal-certified, as well as having vegan, vegetarian and dairy free options.
There are numerous perspectives Wright looks to as justification for buying products locally. Rather than having produce that travels thousands of kilometres and using valuable resources to do so, often using harmful pesticides, he supports local farms who use natural pesticides.
“We’ve been to these farms, seen their operations, we see how they treat their animals, seen how they treat the land. We’ve just been so impressed with all of them, so we keep ordering from them as much as we can.”
With such a vast, dietary-friendly menu, however, comes the threat of increased costs from suppliers.
Wright looks at the big picture rather than the newest legislation.
“There’s always some kind of reason for prices going up,” Wright explains. “Inflation has been a reality for a long time in Canada and we continue to see prices go up. Therefore, to maintain a profit margin and to be able to continue to operate, we do raise our prices, but I think in the context of the minimum wage increase, it may not have as much of a direct impact.”
Some individuals were not as lucky to receive a living wage and are greatly impacted by the wage increase.
Taylor Mclntyre, recent business graduate and a banquet server/bartender at Heritage Park, thinks that the raise is a step in the right direction.
“I think it is an important increase for those working minimum wage jobs. It’s a step towards paying a living wage so that people don’t need to work 70 hours a week to afford basic human necessities like rent and food,” he adds. “If you can’t afford to pay your employees enough to literally survive, or if you can’t afford to look after your employees should something happen at work, then you really don’t deserve to be in business.”
He is hopeful that the new piece of legislation will reduce the unemployment rate. Mclntyre chalks up the high unemployment rate in Calgary to people being unwilling to work.
He is hopeful that the latest increase will change that.
“Having a higher minimum wage may drive people to work more as they’re actually getting paid a reasonable amount for their labour.”
However, he has some criticism for businesses moving forward.
“As long as those at the top don’t get too greedy, the minimum wage should be stimulating,” McIntyre says. “Those at the top need to look out for those at the bottom because if nothing else, they’ll end up making themselves and the economy more profitable in the long run.”
Since the legislation is so new, both Mclntyre and Wright say it is hard to determine what the outcome will be, but they both believe that it will have a positive impact on Calgary’s economy and its citizens.
People will receive bigger paychecks, creating the possibility of an influx of customers for local businesses.
“Has it been an aggressive increase? Yes, but we were already operating at that level from the beginning. So in terms of that, I don’t think it will affect us, but who knows whether we’ll see a drop off in business or an increase in business,” Wright says.
Wright steps back from a business owner standpoint and looks at how the increase will affect his customers.
“Do they have businesses that were paying minimum wage? Or were they making minimum wage and now they make more and they can spend more?” he wonders.
“I don’t think well be able to answer that until long-term and who knows what the confounding factors are, right? It’s hard to say.”
- By Erin Sweere