A different approach on the minimum wage

A few weeks ago, the tip jar, long ubiquitous at coffeehouses everywhere, disappeared at Kopplin's Coffee (2038 Marshall Av., St. Paul, 651-698-0457, www.kopplinscoffee.com).

In its place: Higher wages for employees, funded by higher prices. Co-owner Andrew Kopplin would also add the words "honest prices."

"We've been thinking about this for a while," he said. "How do you make a food-service job resemble other jobs? I don't know restaurants, I only know this coffee shop, but here the amount of money that employees made was at the whim of when customers came into the shop. Which means mornings, more or less. But that's not the only time that there's work to be done."

Kopplin didn't provide specifics, but said that tip-free wages now exceed $9.69 per hour, the figure that Ramsey County has labeled a "living wage" for single adults.

The state's minimum wage is currently $8 an hour. To compensate, the shop's beverage prices increased roughly 20 percent across the board.

In practical terms, the menu's prices are generally 50 cents to a dollar greater than comparable beverages at a nearby competitor. In other words, roughly what many customers would routinely toss into the tip jar.

"This isn't some pie-in-the-sky project," Kopplin said. "It's not, 'Wouldn't it be cool if we paid a decent wage?' It's actually doable."

Kopplin said that another incentive for the policy change was stability, for both his employees and for the shop's turnover rate.

"How do you make a job like this a legitimate choice?" he said. "It's not, 'I'm in college, I suppose I'll work at a coffee shop.' We do a lot of training here, and we want people to stick around longer, and they do. Some stay two, three years. I want to work here until I'm 60, so how do I make that a possibility for everyone?"

Kopplin and his wife, Amanda Kopplin, who handles the eight-year-old shop's bookkeeping, formulated the plan after several months of working the numbers, consulting with the shop's nine counter employees ("They were 100 percent on board, and that was exciting," said Kopplin) and surveying the shop's clientele.

After a few days of alerting customers that a change was going into effect, the new format launched Jan. 1.

In place of the tip jar, Kopplin has added a guest book, which is filling up with customer comments.

"There are more ways to share your gratitude than money," Kopplin said. "You don't have to spend money to be thankful."

More Brut pop-ups

Brut chefs Jamie Malone and Erik Anderson have booked three pop-up previews of their upcoming restaurant. Four-course dinners ($50, with $25 wine pairings) are set for Feb. 3, 17 and 24 at Piccolo (4300 Bryant Av. S., Mpls.), with seatings between 5:30 and 10 p.m. Reservations at brutmn@gmail.com.

Taste of Scandinavia

Sun Street Breads (4600 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls., www.sunstreetbreads.com) baker/co-owner Solveig Tofte is offering a tutorial on how she prepares fyrstekake, kringla and other Norwegian treats, on Feb. 11 from 6 to 8:30 p.m. at the American Swedish Institute (2600 Park Av. S., Mpls.). Cost is $60 ($50 members), register by Feb. 4 at 612-871-4907.

Rick Nelson