Lehigh Valley Live: South Bethlehem restaurateur calls for Pa. minimum wage hike, pays staff near double

By Pamela Sroka-Holzmann
Lehigh Valley Live, Aug 26, 2021

El Jefe’s Taqueria owner John Schall doesn’t have a significant staff shortage at his South Bethlehem eatery and has grown his chain of Mexican restaurants amid the coronavirus pandemic.

He says the “low wage, high turnover” model is what likely has led to other area businesses being forced to reduce hours or close shop all together. ...

Paying more than the state’s minimum wage of $7.25 ... is something Schall says he’s done from the get-go at his East Third Street location. He opened the regional site as his second location in August 2018 following a Cambridge, Massachusetts opening in 2015.

The result has been less turnover and the growth of five locations with a sixth opening soon in New Brunswick, New Jersey and another in Pittsburgh by January 2022. Schall pays $12 an hour for a day shift worker and $13 for a night shift worker to start, plus tips. The average worker can take home more than $15 hourly and many earn $17-$18 hourly over time at the restaurant, plus benefits like sick leave, vacation pay, and regular bonuses.

Workers are hired regardless of experience or background and trained on-site.

“One of the benefits ... when you pay your workers a living wage, is that they tend to stay with you for a very long time,” Schall said.

Four of his general managers from his five locations started as hourly employees ...

Pay hike essential

Department of Labor & Industry Secretary Jennifer Berrier and state Rep. Steve Samuelson, D-Northampton, joined Schall Thursday at his eatery in a rally for a vote to raise the state’s minimum wage. ...

“I’ve been successful in building El Jefe’s as a thriving business not in spite of paying living wages but because of them,” [Schall] said. ...

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Copyright 2021 Advance Local Media

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