Sarah Amery exclusively worked part-time until her realtor husband, Arif, discovered a vacant commercial space available in a prime location — 10th street in Kensington.
It was there, Amery decided, to open a unique take on the typical burger joint — Flipp’n Burgers. They offer vegan, vegetarian, halal and Gluten-free options.
These options are available in order to satisfy the need for expanding dietary choices in Calgary.
Transitioning from working part-time to now owning a small business, Amery has noticed how new economic policies are affecting her restaurant.
The minimum wage hike in Alberta makes it difficult to make a living as a small business owner — even if Amery understands the rationale behind it.
“An increase was necessary,” Amery says. “[But] I don't think it's necessarily a good thing to have three increases in two years. It was difficult for most people to manage. Many small businesses [have] closed, and it was very difficult for us to stay open,” says Amery.
Looking back six years ago, Amery noticed that Kensington was lacking local products as well as Halal, vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free dining options. Opening Flipp’n Burgers was her solution.
“We love feeding people, and we won't feed people food that we don't like and won't eat ourselves,” Amery explains.
Reviving diner culture
The décor of the diner comes from Amery’s love of 50s era American doo-wop and popular culture — notably, the theatres, movie stars, music and diners.
She says diners are a dying breed she is trying to bring back into fashion.
The diner is dedicated to serving quality food all produced locally. This has provided a challenge for Amery, who is committed to maintaining the high standard of product and customer service that she and her employees are proud of.
“We're trying not to let [the minimum wage increase] impact customer service,” she says. “We haven't done a menu increase, and our plan is not to put [the cot of the increase] on to the customers in terms of pricing.”
“What we're trying to do is make sure we have the right team in place during what we think are [busy] times, and try to reduce the amount of staff we have during times when we don't feel like we're as busy, and hope that's sufficient.”
Adjusting to increases
The diner has managed to stay open and successful throughout the minimum wage hike, and is hopeful that adjusting things to accommodate the current situation will prevent anything from changing drastically.
“We're picking up more hours from the staff because we can't afford [them] with the profit margins of the increased [price of] meat and the increased produce,” Amery says. “So, [when] you take the combination of that increasing, and the minimum wage, it's very hard to make a living. [We’ve] had to cut staff, we've had to cut hours and we come back to work more.”
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) is a non-partisan advocacy organization that works with the government to establish policies that echo the needs of its members — small and medium-sized business owners across the country.
Amber Ruddy, the Alberta Director of the CFIB, says the members of the organization feel the same way as Amery about the recent increase.
“At CFIB, our membership has described to us that the minimum wage policy is having a negative impact on the vast majority of firms,” says Ruddy. “So, this impact comes in a variety of ways — over half of the businesses say that it has resulted in higher prices.”
“It’s also resulted in the number of hours being available to staff being reduced, and in some cases, the number of positions, especially for young people, also being reduced.”
Amery and voluntary members of the CFIB are careful to recognize the possible benefits of an increased minimum wage, but are also aware of the negative effects that they have experienced thus far.
The Alberta government is determined to maintain its policies on minimum wage, and believe that it is having a positive effect on both employees and employers.
“We know what the immediate effect will be — life is more affordable for thousands of workers all across and I’m incredibly proud of that. Our government has the backs of workers and we have the backs of small business owners as well. The business owners I’ve talked to know that when you pay your workers a living wage, you’re investing a better future for everyone.” Alberta Minister of Labour Christina Gray says.
Gray sees the increase as a way to stimulate the local economy. By paying employees a higher wage they are able to support themselves as well as small businesses. She says that minimum wage increases have promoted employment growth in retail, which is the largest trade paid minimum wage.
To reach a solution, the CFIB suggests a freeze on minimum wage and a focus on developing programs to enable those who are making minimum wage to move up in their jobs and aid their specific situation.
Gray says she expects their progress to be maintained and that, “we will continue making life better and more affordable for hardworking Albertans.”
Amery is unsure if her business will be sustainable in six months but is hopeful that continuing support from the community and her genuine love for her diner keep her going.
“Everyone believes in a minimum wage increase, everyone believes in fair equality,” says Amery.
“Small businesses can't survive in an economy where it keeps going up and our margins keep going down. It just doesn't make sense to keep operating financially or even work-wise, right? It's a lot of work so you have to really love it.”
- By Lauryn Heintz