Academic journal article Business Case Journal

Skinny Paycheck? Livable Wage Ordinance Tests Socially Responsible Business Owner

Academic journal article Business Case Journal

Skinny Paycheck? Livable Wage Ordinance Tests Socially Responsible Business Owner

Article excerpt

"We believe in the power of capitalism to do good."--Benjy Adler


"You can see it online for yourself, a number of people have pledged to never eat here again," Benjy Adler lamented shortly after his restaurant, The Skinny Pancake, was awarded the exclusive 5-year contract to provide food and beverage services at Vermont's Burlington International Airport. At first, Adler thought winning the competitive contract would be seen as a "local boy makes good" story. However, both Adler and city officials were blindsided when they faced a backlash over The Skinny Pancake's exemption to Burlington's livable wage ordinance. The controversy left Adler, Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger, and airport officials having to explain the city's livable wage ordinance and why it would not be applied to The Skinny Pancake--a business known for its commitment to social responsibility.

The Skinny Pancake

Benjy Adler founded The Skinny Pancake, a specialty crepe restaurant, in 2003. By 2013, he had locations in Burlington, Vermont's largest city, and Montpelier, the state's capital. Adler also operated a summer-only food cart on Church Street, Burlington's pedestrian shopping mall; "Sueno," a vegetable-oil powered school bus used to sell food at regional music festivals; "Have Your Cake Catering," a catering arm for corporate events and weddings; and the Chubby Muffin, a sister restaurant in Burlington that served coffee, homemade muffins, cookies, and hamburgers.

The Skinny Pancake described itself as "a unique creperie and coffee shop committed to nourishing localvore values in Vermont" and listed breakfast crepes, dinner crepes, fondue, dessert crepes, and a variety of salads and other munchies on its menu (Appendix A). Crepe prices ranged from $5.00 to $12.95. The menu also included a list of 36 local ingredient suppliers from throughout Vermont.

Doing the Right Thing

By any objective measure, Adler, a graduate of Middlebury College, was a socially responsible business owner. The Skinny Pancake's mission was "to change the world by building a safer, healthier and more delicious food shed while creating everyday enjoyment that is fun and affordable." As a self-described "conscious capitalist," Adler joined the Vermont Fresh Network, a group committed to building "a flourishing Vermont food and farm economy" by buying locally-grown food from Vermont farmers (Vermont Fresh Network, 2013) and 1 percent for the Planet, an alliance of businesses committed to a healthy planet by donating 1% of sales to environmental organizations. The Skinny Pancake, an S Corporation owned by Adler and his brother Jonny, was also a member of Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility, a statewide trade group committed to the triple bottom line--economic, social, and environmental.

Burlington, Vermont

Burlington was located in northwestern Vermont on the shore of Lake Champlain and was home to a number of colleges including the University of Vermont. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the population of Chittenden County, home to Burlington and its outlying communities, was approximately 160,000. Burlington's population was 43,000 (U.S. Department of Commerce, 2013). The city was governed by first-term Mayor Miro Weinberger (D), a 14-member City Council, and a number of boards, commissions, and committees including the Board of Airport Commissioners.

Burlington International Airport (BTV)

The 93-year old Burlington International Airport, whose Federal Aviation Administration airport code is BTV, primarily served passengers from Vermont, Northern New York, and Quebec. In fact, airport officials estimated that 40% of passengers were Canadian (Searles, 2010). According to Director of Aviation Gene Richards (2013), Burlington International Airport:

   strives to provide and promote the highest quality services to its
   customers, passengers, visitors to the airport, airport tenants,
   and the general aviation community. … 
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