In 1982, my father realized a lifelong dream and bought a local tavern in Ocean County. The Lighthouse Tavern on Route 9 in Waretown, New Jersey has been a neighborhood staple for decades. When I was in high school and college, I worked at the tavern as a dishwasher, prep cook, line cook, and bartender. When my dad passed away 5 years ago, my mom asked me to come help run the family business that he had built. Because my dad had been sick for years, the bar was hemorrhaging money, staff morale was low, and the place needed a facelift.
Since I've taken over, I'm proud to say that sales have increased 40% and we have increased the size of our staff by 25%. We have also updated and expanded our food and drink choices to include a range of new dishes and craft and microbrews. Because of my commitment to labor rights issues and living wages, I am also proud of the fact that all of our full-time employees are at the living wage standard for Ocean County and we are years ahead of the proposed phased in hourly wage levels in the 2017 Raise the Wage Act that will raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2024.
I am deeply committed on this wage issue. First, because of my years of activism fighting for living wages for sweatshop factory workers around the world. Second, because I too my responsibility for my employees seriously. These are not just bartenders, servers, and cooks working at a bar for a fun summer job. These are year-round, full-time employees who are working to feed their families and pay their mortgages.
I also took some tough stands of conscience while running the tavern the past five years. I closed my kitchen on the “Day Without Immigrants” in solidarity with our kitchen staff. And when the local Teamsters who deliver the beer for Shore Point Distributors were locked out of their jobs and had their wages and health insurance stripped, I was the first bar owner in NJ to publicly refuse deliveries from the scab drivers and I replaced all my MillerCoors product taps with other beers until the management bargained again in good faith with the union. Stuff like this cost me some customers (it also brought in new people too), but these are the kinds of stands I am willing to take - simply because it’s the right thing to do.
With these experiences, I can tell you that Democrats need to be the voice of small business. We have ceded this ground for far too long to the GOP. Our policies and our commitment to fighting for the little guy/gal most certainly better position us to be fighting for Main Street.
I can also tell you that if you want to know where America is; if you want to know how Trump won; if you want to know how Democrats can win back voters who should be on our side... Stand behind a bar, sling drinks, and listen to people.
Read this article in the Asbury Park Press about my family's tavern.