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Missouri FORUM | 10/23/2018
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Cape restaurant owner endorses minimum wage ballot issue

By Gabriele Ruggieri

Since I was a child, watching my mother make the traditional meals of Sicily, I knew I wanted to build a life around cooking. But after years of working in hotels and restaurants around the world, I wanted greater opportunity. I wanted my own restaurant, a place that -- like my mother's kitchen -- would not only showcase Italian cooking but embody the warmth and inclusiveness of the hospitality I grew up with.

The community I chose was Cape Girardeau. In 2016, I opened Gabriel's Food + Wine in the Historic District. Since then, Gabriel's has become a community fixture, a place to have pasta with the family, celebrate special occasions or enroll the kids in our children's cooking classes.

I didn't envision opportunity for myself alone -- I also wanted to create long-term opportunities for personal and financial growth among my employees. That began with paying my employees a fair wage. And it's why I support Proposition B to raise Missouri's minimum wage to $12 by 2023.

Investing in my employees -- and the Cape Girardeau community -- by paying higher wages makes me feel good. And it's smart business. Instead of paying low wages and suffering from high turnover, we have dedicated employees, which saves me from continually spending time and money in hiring and training new staff.

I have only to look around the dining room and see the level of service -- one of the most frequently cited points in customer reviews -- to know that good treatment breeds more of the same.

Missouri's minimum wage of $7.85 an hour is too low for even full-time workers to afford the basics, let alone go out for a special meal every now and then. It hurts businesses and the economy when working people can't make ends meet and have to struggle to keep food on the table and a roof overhead. Raising the minimum wage will give businesses in Cape Girardeau and across Missouri a stronger customer base.

And this brings me to what I believe is the central issue behind raising the minimum wage: that paying people a better wage is the most straightforward way to raise the economic fortunes of everyone. If people have more money, they're more likely to spend it at local stores and restaurants. If people don't have enough money to go out to eat every once in a while, it doesn't matter how delicious or authentic my food or how attentive or respectful the service.

Raising the minimum wage makes good sense for business. That's why more than 450 business owners across the state have joined me in signing onto Missouri Business for a Fair Minimum Wage's statement in support of Proposition B.

Proposition B won't raise the minimum wage overnight, either. It would increase it gradually, from the current $7.85 an hour to $8.60 in 2019, and then by 85 cents a year until it reaches $12 an hour in 2023. This will give businesses time to adjust to paying increased wages and experience benefits such as lower turnover and more productive employees. And increased revenue from rising consumer spending from workers with more money in their paychecks will go a long way in offsetting the higher hourly minimum.

I had the opportunity to make my dream of owning a restaurant come true. I look forward to serving many more locals and out-of-town guests at our tables. Raising Missouri's minimum wage will have a ripple effect, benefiting local businesses and our community. This is an opportunity we shouldn't let pass us by.

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Cape restaurant owner endorses minimum wage ballot issue
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