What a whirlwind it has been since Bon Appetit magazine named Portland the 2018 Restaurant City of the Year in their September issue. Cong Tu Bot and Tandem Coffee Roasters were mentioned in the magazine’s feature piece, and since then we’ve had a wild few weeks, with increased business, lots of first-time customers, skyrocketing social media and lots of press. We’re so honored that our hard work is being recognized nationally.

Our businesses are just a small representation of all of the incredible dining experiences available in wonderful establishments in Portland, and we’re thrilled to share this distinction with all of them. In fact, the best part of the Bon Appetit article is that all of Portland’s restaurants are going to feel the positive impact directly. Portland as a whole will get an economic boost as more people travel here to experience Portland’s vibrant food scene.

But what about Portland’s restaurant workers who actually make this food city run? Will the people who prepare our food and serve our customers also get a boost? We think it’s imperative to ensure that Portland’s cooks, servers, dishwashers, baristas and others are also rewarded for their part in making this city’s food service industry so successful. That’s why we think it’s perfect timing that the Portland City Council is considering an earned paid sick days ordinance for all of Portland’s employees – including the many seasonal and part-time workers whom our industry depends on.

The reality is that most food service workers do not get paid sick days, which negatively affects employees and the public. According to the national organization Family Values at Work, nearly 80 percent of restaurant workers don’t have access to even one paid day to take care of themselves or a family member when they are sick. A 2010 study in Maine found that the number was even higher – 89 percent of restaurant workers didn’t have paid sick days, and 79 percent reported working while sick. Both locally and nationally, about half of food service workers who worked while they were sick said it was because they couldn’t afford to take the day off.

As business owners, we have a responsibility to the well-being of the public, including keeping people healthy. We have had to tell employees that they were too sick to work – knowing that decision may cause financial and personal hardship for the employee. Providing paid sick leave to food service workers eases that hardship and supports workers to keep their germs out of the workplace, take the time they need to fully recover and get back to work sooner, rather than getting sicker.

Tandem Coffee Roaster and Bakery has had an earned paid sick days policy for the past two years and has experienced only positive outcomes. The policy has increased our payroll by less than 2 percent annually. As a direct result of this additional benefit, Tandem has an extremely high retention rate – over half of our team has been with us for more than two years. The ability to use paid sick days has created a much healthier and happier crew, since people do not come to work sick. Cong Tu Bot is looking to implement a policy this year – hopefully with the guidance of a municipal ordinance that sets a standard for all employers.

Serving delicious food in a vibrant atmosphere with great service and good music is one piece of the puzzle. We’d be missing a significant and important piece if we weren’t also creating a supportive and stable place of employment. Paid sick days for our employees are a necessary part of us building the kind of businesses we want to operate and the kind of businesses Portland should champion.

As Portland celebrates the national recognition of our incredible restaurants, cafes, shops, farmers and fishmongers, it should also celebrate the workers that made it possible by swiftly passing the proposed universal earned paid sick days ordinance. Let’s make sure that everyone who worked for it benefits from Portland’s success.


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