Celebrity Chefs Weigh In on California’s Minimum Wage Hike


Celebrity chef and host of “Restaurant: Impossible,” Robert Irvine, well-known for his resilience in aiding struggling eateries, asserts that California’s recent implementation of a $20 minimum wage has set a precedent with potential nationwide ramifications. Speaking to Fox Business, Mr. Irvine expressed concern that this move could catalyze similar actions in other states, spelling trouble for small businesses.

“This is Robert Irvine predicting we’re going to lose about 20-plus percent of our small, mom-and-pop business because what California has actually done is going to enable other states to do the same thing,” Mr. Irvine warned. He emphasized that the issue extends beyond California, characterizing it as a widespread concern across the nation, stating “Now California has done it, has opened the gateways to other states to raise that minimum wage.”

Effective April 1, a significant change unfolded in California’s labor landscape as the minimum wage for fast-food workers increased to $20 per hour under the auspices of AB1228. This freshly minted legislation aims to fortify safeguards for employees within the fast-food sector. Specifically, the law categorizes a fast-food establishment as a limited-service eatery affiliated with a chain boasting no fewer than 60 outlets nationwide, predominantly vending food and beverages for immediate consumption.

AB1228 supplants its predecessor, AB257, colloquially dubbed the FAST Recovery Act, ratified in 2022 with akin intentions of bolstering worker rights. Prior to this recent adjustment, as of Jan. 1, 2024, the minimum wage across the state stood at $16 hourly.

Since the wage hike in California, Mr. Irvine, along with self-ordering digital kiosk technology company GRUBBRR, has experienced a staggering 77 percent surge in service requests. Mr. Irvine, who has invested in GRUBBRR, recently co-launched the “Restaurant Revamp” initiative to provide struggling restaurants with digital overhauls.

According to Mr. Irvine, these technological upgrades could serve as a lifeline for eateries facing closure or layoffs due to the new law. “I believe that everybody should be able to make a livable wage. And up until this point, it’s been tough. Restaurant workers have suffered. But it comes at a really bad time because the inflation is very high, food costs are very high,”  Mr. Irvine remarked. He highlighted the burden on small businesses, unable to cope with the increased labor costs.

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While Mr. Irvine doesn’t have stakes in California-based establishments, he is spearheading tech-driven restaurants in other states. He reassured that technology adoption wouldn’t entail job losses but rather enhance efficiency by reducing errors and improving customer service. He noted, “And the increase of wage plus the food cost is putting small, mom-and-pop operators out of business because they cannot afford $20 an hour, $27 an hour in some places.”

“It actually saves me the labor in the long run, because I’ve taken that human being that would be doing that and putting [them] to a better use somewhere else. Not firing the person, I’m reallocating the labor to work in a better format to me,” Mr. Irvine explained, detailing his own ventures into technology-driven eateries. He projected a significant uptick in technology integration across quick-service restaurants by year-end, promising increased profitability without compromising jobs.

Mr. Irvine advised restaurateurs to adapt and innovate to navigate the changing landscape. Celebrity chef Andrew Gruel, founder of the “Slapfish” seafood chain, with locations throughout Southern California and other states, expressed his concerns in a statement to The Epoch Times.

“It’s a 25 percent increase in cost for all restaurants,” Mr. Gruel stated, “so prices will probably go up around 20 to 25 percent to cover the cost. Even if a restaurant already pays $20 per hour or more (us for example) they now need to pay more to sit above the minimum wage and remain attractive as a higher paying restaurant.”

Mr. Gruel, who also appeared on Food Network’s Food Truck Face-Off, predicts these rising costs will ultimately hit consumers. “It increases everything,” he said, “then the prices go up and the team member dollar doesn’t go as far. Then the wage will go up again. Wash, rinse, repeat.”

Following the commencement of the new minimum wage, a Fosters Freeze branch in Lemoore, California ceased operations, leaving its employees jobless. The abrupt closure left some workers bewildered, initially mistaking it for an April Fool’s prank.

“We had gotten a text in the group chat that we were shutting down, and I completely thought it was an April Fools joke,” shared former employee Jason Boado with KMPH.

The closure turned out to be genuine. Loren Wright, the proprietor of the Fosters Freeze, expressed reluctance in a text to the news outlet, stating, “Small businesses can’t survive a 120% plus min wage increase over the last 10 years. We are all more broke than we were 10 years ago its clear raising min wage isn’t helping…I am sad to see my employees off, and sad to see Lemoore off.”


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