Stories from the corner of 37th and Nicollet

May 2019

Family Friendly and Hoping to be more

There’s been quite a bit of baby talk at the café these past few weeks.  After offering our evening cook, Charles, paternity leave, and the stories that came up around doing that, he’s back and working and there are more stories, photos, questions and juggling to help him get accustomed to his new role as dad.

Since the beginning, Butter has had family needs built in.  My children were in middle school when we bought the shop and they found themselves in active roles around the café right away.  My wife, brother, and two sisters were instrumental in getting the shop purchased and opened.  My mother, stepfather, in-laws, uncle, grandmother all pitched in as well. Butter is rooted in family and still feels like our family’s place even though it’s just me there these days.  

The staff will tell you without any prodding, that they feel like part of the family, and that thinking like family helps us build a more cohesive team.  I’d venture to say there are a few customers of the shop who consider themselves family as well. 

I always answer the question – what brings you joy in your business? with “watching Butter babies grow up.”  The welcome and celebration around a new baby in our midst is a true community spirit lifter. And the longevity connected to marking first steps, first words, first meals at the café, and especially reaching the top of the counter is just the outward marker of a relationship that we are all cultivating.

So, it’s with some regret and sadness that I acknowledge that as an employer, it’s been much more difficult to be family friendly for staff with new babies.  We have had a few over the course of the 13 years, including my brother’s two children.  I tried to kick in a little pay for the days he was away and we did rearrange his schedule many times to help him be a part of his children’s growing up and their child care needs.  But it was haphazard, limited, and not sustainable in the long run.

Our first mother-to-be worked until her delivery date, took a break from her nearly full time work with us and was back at work part-time, juggling child care with grandparents and her partner.  I still remember as she told me she was pregnant, her desperate fear that she’d lose this job, that she’d not have any income to help care for herself, that she’d lose the community she loved so dearly.  I had nothing I could offer for her time away. I could only promise to take her back when she was ready.  And she did come back, with a second child providing another short break but her third child leading to a final break with us.

Four other women and one man on my staff left for good to start a family or to have more time with their young children.  But that’s a pretty small number considering the over 180 who’ve worked at Butter during its 13 years.  It’s fair to say, that working in a small coffee shop / café isn’t the kind of job around which is easy to raise children.  It’s even harder, as a restaurant owner with no margin to speak of, to come up some sort of benefit plan that could help more than one staff person a year – if that.  

So, while we smile when children dash from our entrance to the toy box, or proudly share their “usual” weekly order of mini-pancakes, or measure themselves at the growth chart, or feed our chicken benches outside, we all feel the discomfort at knowing that we really struggle to care for our own staff’s child care needs and parenting needs. 

As an employer, I’m happy to take responsibility for paying a fair, living wage.  I happy to offer staff a set schedule and flexibility as needed to attend to parenting challenges and childcare arrangements. I’m willing to provide earned paid time off and assist with shift swaps to not lose scheduled hours.  But even so, this isn’t enough. I need help with a way to fund longer paid time off.  I need help with creation of accessible, affordable childcare that allows a service professional’s pay to cover those costs.  I need help to support young families who don’t want to give up jobs they enjoy in order to get benefits they need to survive.  

Those needs, I’d be willing to help fund through additional employer taxes.  A small payroll tax is sustainable as a budgeting tool.  A small amount, over a long period of time works for me.  A huge chunk in unpredictable time frames does not.  Family friendly has always been good business.  I think that it is time we as a society recognize how supporting families is truly a great way to support small businesses.