The New Normal…Seattle’s Minimum Wage from Seatown Restaurants’ Perspective

If you are reading this note, you have likely been to one of our restaurants and have seen the 2% surcharge funding the Mayor’s Wage Equity Surcharge (WES). After months of our team working together to craft the best plan for us to handle the wage increase, we felt the most competitive and least intrusive is to implement a surcharge equal to the increase in wages until all restaurants in Seattle are on the same playing field.

100% of this surcharge will be distributed to our staff in either wages or benefits. If there is a surplus, we will distribute it to current hourly staff at the end of the calendar year as a bonus and adjust the surcharge for the next calendar year.

Now a little background:

Mayor Murray activated his VIP panel of business and labor leaders in early 2014 to form an action plan to get to his campaign-stated goal of a $15 minimum wage. How we got there and how long it took was really the only debate for the panel. Most restaurateurs that I know were in favor of $15 if they could use a credit on tips paid to the staff as part of that wage. City Councilwoman Sawant argued vehemently that tips were humiliations and that only wages paid by the employer could be counted against minimum wage and that we needed $15NOW ( the now familiar campaign slogan).

From the beginning of this negotiation, the Mayor had poll numbers suggesting that Seattle voters were overwhelmingly in favor of an increased minimum wage by (70+%). I was one of those “yes” voters and still am. At the end of the day, the VIP Advisory panel settled on a structure that we have implemented starting April 1st. (Read the City of Seattle Government link here.)

Personally, my hope was for $15NOW to go to a public vote and let the people who are paying the bills decide the outcome. Most likely it would have been approved, and there would be no need for this note. $15NOW would have been enacted this April 1st across the board. Hard working folks trying to put meals on their tables, paying the high cost of living in Seattle, choosing to pay rent instead of heating bills and working multiple jobs desperately need the raise. With the across the board approach, there would be no need for watchdog enforcers, layers of management minutiae, thousands of dollars of extra auditing expenses, and there would be equal consequence for all employers and citizens.

Now, I don’t want this note to be catty and sour because at the end of the day, despite the irrationality of many of the provisions in the Mayor’s plan, the people who need the increase are going to eventually get it despite being abandoned by their champion city councilwoman Sawant. $15NOW ended up being $11 in April, 12.50 in 2016, $13.50 in 2017 and the almighty slogan $15NOW in 2018. It’s sort of like going into the ER, and having them ask you to return later…… 3 years later. What happened? Why were the boisterous $15NOW folks not picketing the Mayor’s and the city council’s offices for their failure to act, and why was Ms Sawant being arrested lying in the streets of Seatac and not Seattle?

With the new regulations, companies with over 501 employees have to increase to $15 minimum wage over the next three years unless you offer a “silver-level” health plan or above in which case you can spread it out over 4 years. Companies under 500 employees have up to seven years to pay the $15 minimum using a mix of wages, tips, and healthcare benefits. This is a multi-million dollar discrepancy between large and small employers and completely tilts the playing field in a very competitive industry.

I know all of you eat at a variety of Seattle’s restaurants not just ours. With their plan, the Mayor and City Council have decided that restaurants of our size should pay approximately 10% more per hour for servers, bartenders, host and bussers than any of my contemporaries. Just on raw talent it’s hard enough to compete with amazing Seattle restaurateurs like Ethan Stowell, Matt Dillon, Renee Erickson and Thierry Rautureau. Now I get to pay millions more in labor cost on top of it.

Here’s an incongruity:  the Mayor specifically opined that tip credit was illegal according to the Washington State Constitution when the restaurateurs asked for tip credits towards $15Now. These are tips, by the way, which the IRS declares as wages, taxes as wages, and are used by banks to make loans on as wages. We as Washington State businesses pay payroll taxes on these tips as well as social security taxes. As a matter of fact, if you don’t pay your taxes on your tips you will go to JAIL.

So how does this all resolve itself? When all restaurants can compete on a level playing field, my guess is there will be some consensus amongst you the customers and us the restaurateurs on the most reasonable solution. Straight up price increase, service charge, larger surcharge, cut benefits, eliminate “free” coffee for staff or just plain cut staff altogether…..who knows. What I do know is the “good deed” done for the most vulnerable by our city government comes with a huge sales tax increase to line their own spending budgets. Yes, each option listed above is a “sales tax” item which flows to those in the city who needlessly created this chaos.

We hold in the highest esteem our hard working team and you our treasured customers. We are going to work through this challenge together. I truly hope you continue to value us as chefs, bartenders, cooks, and waiters but also as your neighbors trying to do what’s best for our city and all of us who live here. I also invite you to help us build a consensus for moving forward in a positive way by communicating your thoughts in our comment section or privately by email at

Tom Douglas
Seatown Restaurants

March 31st, 2015 | No Comments »

White Guy Vietnamese at the Hot Stove Society

white guy la lot cooked

Tom Douglas Restaurants Chef and Operations Manager Sean Hartley taught a super informative and super delicious class on what he called “White Guy Vietnamese” last Saturday afternoon.  This is Sean’s way of saying he didn’t grow up in Vietnam and he’s not of Vietnamese family heritage. However, after years of dining in every Southeast Asian joint in Seattle and numerous trips to Southeast Asia, the man knows his way around a wild betel leaf or a banana flower!  Read the whole post here.  If you’re sad that you missed this stunning class, be sure to keep your eye on the Hot Stove Society website. We are posting new and amazing classes all the time.

March 26th, 2015 | No Comments »

Padre Island at Pike Place Market Pop-Up/ by Norman Matthew Broussard

matt broussard

I am from southern Texas and was granted the opportunity to be a line cook at Palace Kitchen where I currently work.  The more experience I gain here at Palace, the more I want to to utilize and double that experience by putting on these pop-up dinners.

Padre Island, TX, is the beach near where I am from.  It is the longest island in the US and is a huge spring break destination. Good fish and good food.

Here’s the link to the Padre Island at Pike Place Market pop-up I’ll be doing April 9, underground of the Market in the Atrium Kitchen.  I hope you’ll join me in this intimate 14-seat space for a 4-course dining experience featuring my modern interpretation of Tex Mex cuisine.

(Editor’s note: photo credit to Chris Yang from Dyne)

March 24th, 2015 | No Comments »

Sara Dickerman’s Healthy Grain Workshop at Hot Stove Society

sarad grains

We were excited to have one of Seattle’s finest food writers, Sara Dickerman, join us to lead a class at our cooking school, the Hot Stove Society, last week.  Sara authors Bon Appetit Magazine’s annual Food Lover’s Cleanse, and she has become expert at creating healthful recipes that actually taste delicious!  Read the Hot Stove Society blog here.

March 23rd, 2015 | No Comments »

Armandino Batali teaches curing class at Hot Stove Society

armandino sized

As TDR Marketeer and blogster Eva Mrak-Blumberg puts it: “Seattle’s Principal Salumist visits Hot Stove Society.” Yes, the delightful and expert salumi-maker Armandino graced us with his presence at our new cooking school, Hot Stove Society, last week for a curing class.  Read about it right here.  Check out the Hot Stove Society class schedule here.

January 22nd, 2015 | No Comments »

Our Bread Bakers have Moved into their New Home!

cantina bread bakers moving mixer

Congratulations to the Tom Douglas Restaurants Bread Team!  They have now settled into their new home behind Cantina Lena on the corner of 5th and Lenora (The Martin Building).  Thanks to the the combined Cantina and Operations teams with their broad shoulders and big muscles for doing the heavy lifting and getting those enormous mixers into the space!  Head Bread Baker Wendy says she likes the big windows in the new bread bakery, and she likes being back downtown! (Previously the bread bakery was located at Dahlia Workshop in the Serious Pie Westlake space in South Lake Union.)

January 22nd, 2015 | 1 Comment »

Honey Remedy/ by Stacey Miyahara, TDR Project Manager

ballard bee honey bee close up

There has been a lot of buzz (ha!) in the past decade surrounding colony collapse and the declining global bee population. Scientists speculate on a number of factors – pesticides, parasites, fungi, increased overwinter bee loss – and there remains an ongoing debate in the hunt for the main culprit. However, there was little debate that the numbers had reached some unsettling lows, with California seeing an 80% die-off rate in 2006.

ballard bee hives and honey comb

Corky Luster, a Seattle native and former beekeeper, understood the numbers and the situation that would follow if the bees continued to decline. He recognized the need for a remedy, and out of that need started the Ballard Bee Company. They are working to improve the health of the local pollinator population by maintaining an apiary that spans the city. In addition to hives hosted on farms, local volunteers can host a hive in their own backyard that will be carefully maintained by the Ballard Bee Company. These neighborhood hives facilitate pollination locally, create opportunities for community engagement, and leave volunteers with a tasty reward.

We recently partnered with Corky and the Ballard Bee Company to host our very own hive at Local Roots Farm in Duvall. The weather this year made beekeeping a challenge, but Corky and his team took great care to keep our bees healthy and working hard, and we’re so excited to be able to share the yield of their labor with you.

ballard bee honey jar

You can find their absolutely delicious local honey on the shelves of Home Remedy now! Corky and the Ballard Bee Company share our passion for a healthy and thriving ecology and we thank you for helping us to support our local bee worker force. We love our bees so much you can taste it!

(Photo credit: Stacey Miyahara for the Home Remedy honey jar and Jim Musladin for the rest of the photos)

January 7th, 2015 | No Comments »

Tom’s Letter

tom with thank you

What an incredible year 2014 has been!

We want to thank you for being our guests.  We’ve celebrated anniversaries, weddings, birthdays, first dates, family reunions, office parties, and openings with you this year; we’ve loved meeting all your new faces, greeting old friends, hearing your “wows” and your critiques, and growing older one more year.

We are grateful to all of our chefs who work unbelievably hard every day of the year, and their loyal, determined staff. We are grateful to our General Managers who bring “graciousness” to their restaurants each and every day, and the servers and bussers and baristas who greet you with a smile, and to my entire team for their enthusiasm and creativity.

We have loved being a part of Seattle for the last 25 years and we have YOU to thank for that.

Happy Holidays, have a wonderful year, and cheers to 2015!

Tom and the Team

(Read the whole Tom’s letter and newsletter here and check out all our New Years menus and our holiday hours.)

December 30th, 2014 | No Comments »

Happy Holidays!!

eva gingerbread house

Randy Matthews, Kat Chawkins and Kat Lawson at Dahlia Bakery all did a great job building this cute gingerbread village!

Happy Holidays everyone!!!

December 23rd, 2014 | No Comments »

Happy Hanukkah!

latke burners

Tonight’s the night to light the first candle on the menorah.  Have a Happy Hanukkah and read about last night’s latke class at our new cooking school, Hot Stove Society, right here.

December 16th, 2014 | No Comments »