To commemorate Labor Day, WCHL’s Aaron Keck hosted a panel discussion featuring local workers whose employers are certified with us. Tammy Price from Chapel Hill Transit, Alaina Plauche from Meantime Coffee, and Ben Sellers from Ten Mothers Farm reflected on what it means to be paid a living wage. OCLW’s Susan Romaine and Andrea Cash spoke about our organization’s history and mission. Listen to the audio clips via WCHL’s website. 

And don’t forget to take part in our social media campaign this Labor Day weekend.  In a separate segment, Aaron and his husband Brad talked about their date night plans that will include stops at living wage employers like Belltree, Lantern, Epilogue, and more.

Carrboro Farmers’ Market

Between Sept. 1 and Labor Day on Sept. 5, we encourage you to show some love for Orange County’s living wage employers! Thank them for helping to create a more just and sustainable local economy that works for all! Check out our directory and make plans to spend some of your dollars with one or more businesses/organizations on our roster. Then, post to social media using our hashtag – #OrangeCountyNCLivingWage – between Sept. 1 and Sept. 5. And be sure to tag Orange County Living Wage and the employer you’re featuring!

A bit of background: While the federal minimum wage hasn’t budged from $7.25 per hour in more than 13 years, Orange County

Living Wage’s 2022 living wage is $15.85 per hour, or $14.35 per hour if the employer pays at least half the cost of health insurance. We commend the approximately 250 living wage employers currently on our roster – more than 8,500 employees work for them.

Since our nonprofit was founded in 2015, OCLW living wage employers have collectively raised wages by $2.7 million – money that is often spent right here in our backyard!

Thank you for showing your appreciation for these positive change makers in our local economy!

Meantime Coffee

 

BY ANDREA CASH 

Beau Bennett during one of his many ‘Beau Shows.’ Photo by Heba Salama Photography

When Chef Beau Bennett of Beau Catering suddenly died of an intracranial brain hemorrhage on a Friday in October of last year, his staff had to simultaneously process their devastating loss and successfully pull off three large catering events that same weekend.

“The show must go on,” says Lauren Erickson Bennett, Beau’s wife. “There is still an event, and people are looking to you. … As the caterer, you’re the backbone of the event. … You have to keep it moving along.”

Lauren gives the team credit for wanting to do well for their colleagues, for the business’ reputation, and for their clients. The team had never executed an event without Beau at the helm. She also recognizes that, through their dedication and steadfastness, they exhibited “pure love for Beau.”

Most of the staff has come on board since the onset of Covid. Lauren says that’s even more of a testament to how much they care about their work – they were relatively new to their company environment but chose to stay as the business weathered the storm.

Since Beau died at the age of 45, the business – which was launched in 2009 and is based out of the Piedmont Food Processing Center in Hillsborough – has been busier than ever. “This was a hard spring because this is the first time since Covid that it was a regular, busy wedding season plus all the things we set up during Covid – the marketplace, the drop-off meals. … We actually have sort of tripled the business,” Lauren says.

Lauren co-owns and operates a financial planning and investment management firm – working with a lot of small business owners – but wanted to keep Beau Catering open because there are 20 to 30 people at any given time relying on it for all or part of their income. “I felt like we had to give it the best we could and not shut it down,” Lauren says.

It’s also “the one place I can say Beau’s name without feeling kind of awkward,” she says. They were together for 22 years and married for 10, having met as restaurant co-workers.

Sometimes, in a given day, the staff will hold three to five tastings for clients who are planning events, and they catered two to three events each week through the busy spring wedding season, which will happen again in the fall season.

It’s no secret that the food industry is challenging, and catering brings unique obstacles as the team must set up in unfamiliar spaces and for unfamiliar audiences – during high-pressure events that often represent some of the most important hours of a client’s life. The team can only function well if everyone shows mutual respect. “In general, it’s really important to keep positivity – but not in a cheesy way,” says Lauren. “And honesty. Honesty breeds positivity. You have to hear people when they have an issue or a complaint on how something could be done differently. You have to listen and respond.”

“Everybody is expected to do anything – and they do,” Lauren says of the Beau Catering team. “And that’s why the living wage is so important.”

Payroll has consistently been the catering business’ largest expense. Lauren says it was always Beau’s goal to pay people not just a living wage but a thriving wage. (The business became an Orange County Living Wage employer in March 2019.) Staffers start at $16 per hour – 15 cents more than Orange County Living Wage’s 2022 living wage – during a probationary period. Their hourly rate quickly increases if they do well. Most on the team make $18 to $25 per hour, plus tips.

“If someone is consistently worried about money and bills and paying for the kids or whatever the personal thing is, and then you add in that you are asking them to do really challenging work, you are not going to get substantial work out of them,” Lauren says. “And they aren’t going to be positive. The morale is really important.”

Feel the Love Friday – a social media initiative – came about within a month of Beau’s death because Beau passed away on a Friday and by that Saturday, there were rumors on the Internet saying that the business had closed. Their social media team came up with the idea to keep Beau’s presence front and center in an upbeat way. Every Friday brings a positive post: about staffers preparing meals to uplift a nonprofit, about a special memory of Beau, about a team member. “It’s a way to keep Beau as part of things without being too sappy and weird,” Lauren says.

Beau, a native of Washington, North Carolina, first worked in a restaurant in his hometown, but got his first kitchen job at Crook’s Corner after taking on odd jobs, including working in the construction industry. He was trained under renowned Crook’s Corner Chef Bill Smith.

A styled shoot at Lavender Oaks Farm. Photo by Arika Jordan Photography

Lauren says that Beau thrived in chaos and loved working with his hands. His cooking philosophy centered on using as few ingredients as possible – Beau believed that the best food was also the simplest.

Beau Catering launched in 2009. The Beau Show – where Beau would speak to event crowds and describe the food as it came out – was a signature of Beau’s business and an extension of his effervescent personality. But, Lauren says, “the Beau Show was a real show, all the time.”

“Beau was the kind of person you root for twice as hard because you know he is rooting so hard for everyone else,” Hillsborough Mayor Jenn Weaver wrote in The News of Orange following Beau’s death last year. “He was the kind of person who finds genuine happiness in other people experiencing their own successes and life milestones. … This one person touched so many people’s lives in a purely positive way.”

The chef was known for his larger-than-life presence and friendly nature. And that, in so many ways, is his real legacy.

“There’s no real reason to keep the business going if it’s not going to have the same emotions and feelings and fun that was there before,” Lauren says. “There’s no reason to do it if the team isn’t making money and enjoying themselves and feeling empowered.”

Photo by John Simpson Photography

BY ROXANA BOYD | PHOTOS BY TOM SIMON

Now in its 10th year, the Morningside School has officially joined Orange County Living Wage’s roster, raising the number of child care organizations on the list to 15. Sadie Bauer (pictured above) started the preschool as a four-day program in 2012 with six children enrolled, adding extra space to her home in Carrboro to accommodate the school. Today, the school enrolls 12 children each academic year for a five-day program and has expanded further with a summer camp.

Sadie heard about Orange County Living Wage and its certification process by word of mouth. She already paid her co-teacher and assistant teacher a living wage but decided to become certified after she saw a sticker in the window of a local ophthalmologist office. 

“I just thought it would be a cool way to help further the knowledge about it,” says Sadie. “There must be lots of other people in a similar situation that maybe just need one more push or one more sign to encourage them to be aware of it.” 

The certification stickers around town also stand out to Zuzana Love, whose 4-year-old son attends The Morningside School. 

“I’ve loved living in Carrboro and Chapel Hill and seeing the living wage sticker around the businesses,” she says. “Orange County Living Wage’s work makes it more visible by highlighting the businesses that do pay a living wage.”

Sadie wants the people she works with “to be able to afford the food that works for their body, a comfortable place to live and the health care they need.” She believes a living wage reflects the humanity of the people doing the work and wants her employees to feel respected, worthy, and valued.  

‘A Magical Place’
Sadie founded The Morningside School with a focus on emergent curriculum and nature- and inquiry-based learning. This unique philosophy continues to draw her to the work today. One of the ways she and her staff kick off the school year is by diving into what their students are curious to learn.

“We work emergently with them as they become interested in bugs or friendship or animals – one year it was coffee machines,” Sadie says with a laugh. 

The teachers develop prompts, questions, and queries around the children’s interest, sparking them to learn more. Then, they add in the important skills they want to teach – communication, pre-literacy, pre-math, social skills, and the ability to cooperate and think creatively. 

Ariel Durrant, one of the teachers at Morningside, with a student.

“It’s unique in that the kids really have a lot of ownership over their own experience and their own education, and that in and of itself leads them to be more invested and more engaged,” says Sadie.

She hopes their experience at The Morningside School will lead them to be problem solvers and to understand that learning can be fun and interesting.

The school’s nature-based learning has grown over the years, particularly during the pandemic. Sadie says the children not only spend time outside but also learn how nature affects wildlife and our own experiences – our moods and our choices of activities.

“It’s a magical place,” says Zuzana. Her son was unsure about school at first after being at home for two years during the pandemic, but that hesitancy disappeared after just two days at The Morningside School. 

“I think that speaks volumes about how much he loves it,” she says. “He just blossomed into this social and curious and imaginative guy.”

Her favorite aspect of the school is the way the teachers nourish the students’ imaginations. She also notes that children are taught how to make decisions and to consider how they affect other people. 

“The teachers are just the kindest, most patient, sweetest human beings,” says Zuzana.

To learn more about The Morningside School, head to its website. 

 

Chapel Hill, NC, Aug. 1, 2022 – In recent weeks, Orange County Living Wage (OCLW) has recertified the Town of Carrboro and Town of Chapel Hill as living wage employers, and 337 workers will share a total annual wage increase of $500,000 as a result.

Carrboro’s recertification represents a total annual wage increase of $450,000 for 226 employees, while Chapel Hill’s points to a total wage increase of $50,000 for 111 employees. Both towns first became certified as living wage employers in 2016. When a business or organization is certified as a living wage employer, their certification is good for two years and then they can re-apply.

“As economic inequality worsens, we need an even stronger commitment to broadly shared economic prosperity. I’m proud to say that, by recertifying as a living wage employer, the Town of Carrboro is continuing to act according to the community’s values, set an example for other employers, and most importantly, invest in the well-being of all our employees,” said Carrboro Mayor Damon Seils.

The Town of Hillsborough, Orange County Government, and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools are also certified as living wage employers.

OCLW’s 2022 living wage for hourly workers is $15.85 an hour, or $14.35 for employers who pay at least half of employees’ health insurance costs. The nonprofit adjusts the living wage annually to keep pace with rising rents.

OCLW determines its living wage by using the widely accepted Universal Living Wage Formula based on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) standard that no more than 30% of a worker’s gross income should be devoted to housing. To calculate the wage, OCLW uses the average cost of a one-bed apartment in a four-county area including Alamance, Chatham, Durham, and Orange counties.

The 243 employers on OCLW’s current roster employ more than 8,500 employees in Orange County.

“It is important to the Town of Chapel Hill that our staff members are able to thrive both professionally and personally,” said Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger. “Providing a living wage is one way that we, as an employer, can help support the well-being of our employees and their families. It also demonstrates that we value and appreciate the jobs that our dedicated workers do for our community.”

When a business or organization certifies as a living wage employer, OCLW calculates the total amount they raised wages to meet the living wage threshold. Since 2015, that totals $2.7 million – money that is often spent in Orange County.

See Orange County Living Wage’s full directory of certified living wage employers, view postings on its living wage jobs board, or apply to become a certified living wage employer at orangecountylivingwage.org.

Our thanks to 97.9 FM WCHL for spreading the word about our recently certified living wage employers. Have a listen the short clips below to learn more about these businesses and organizations – and please support them as you can!

Spotted Dog Restaurant and Bar 

Franklin Motors Hospitality

Soltys Place

Simple Air Solutions 

Rasberry Maintenance Services 

Quantum Eye Care

B3 Coffee

Krave Kava

Pee Wee Homes

Yep Roc Records

Carrboro Farmers’ Market

Humane Homes Wildlife Removal & Prevention

Clarion Associates

Belltree Cocktail Club

SECU Family House

My Muses Card Shop

Efland Trash Services

The Morningside School 

StThomas More Catholic Parish

Notch Design

Child Care Services Association

Community School for People under Six 

H3 Plumbing & Mechanical 

Piedmont Electric Membership Cooperative

Deli Edison

Little House Playschool

The Water Specialist

Orange County Living Wage recently appeared in The Local Reporter on two occasions.

On July 1, ‘Pioneering the Living Wage in Orange County: Vimala’s Has Championed Restaurant Workers Since 1994’ was published.

An excerpt: “[Vimala] Rajendran pays her restaurant employees $20 to $25 per hour, which is on the high end of service industry salaries. However, Vimala is quick to point that everything is relative.

‘I still think it’s not enough money,’ Rajendran said. ‘That’s the point I want to make. What we call a livable wage is only possible because we also take tips.’

… For the past seven years, a local nonprofit — Orange County Living Wage (OCLW) — has been certifying and promoting employers in the county who compensate their full and part-time employees with a living wage of at least $15.85 an hour ($14.35 with employer-provided healthcare), according to the nonprofit’s website. Orange County Living Wage has certified more than 300 local employers since its inception in 2015, including Vimala’s Curryblossom Café.” 

On July 7, ‘Local Nonprofit Addresses Income Inequality by Supporting Workers’ Rights’ was published.

An excerpt: “‘Orange County Living Wage was an opportunity that offered Crystal Clear Cleaning a chance to be seen in a very professional way, as well as balancing my values and my core beliefs about work and humanity and valuing everybody’s contribution,’ said Jane Meadows, the proprietor of Crystal Clear Cleaning. ‘I wanted to be part of this organization because they elevated my business to a respectful place and gave me a chance to honor the hard-working people that are working with Crystal Cleaning.'” 

On July 7, The News & Observer published an opinion piece by Nicholas Stroud, partner at Belltree Cocktail Club in Carrboro, which became certified as one of our living wage employers in June.

Here’s an excerpt:

“For too long, service jobs have been seen as transitory or ‘less than.’ These are some of the hardest working people, tackling some of the most customer service-oriented jobs out there. It is time we paid them what they deserve for helping to make our businesses profitable. Within the service industry of Orange and Chatham counties, a tipped living wage has always been easy to earn by restaurant and bar workers because we live and work in a relatively wealthy area. But a living wage is just that: Living. It doesn’t necessarily mean you are thriving. Nor does it mean you are saving money for emergencies or future goals, especially when you factor our area’s cost of living. So, while many employers in food and beverage average out the old formula of $2.13/hour plus tips to determine whether their employees are making a living wage, we at Belltree Cocktail Club in Carrboro do not. We now pay our employees the requisite $15.85 per hour plus their tips. We do not hold back any of their tips. We hope that other food and beverage businesses will do the same.”

We appreciate the Belltree team’s desire to spread the word about the importance of paying a living wage!

Read the full piece on The N&O’s website. 

 

Rebecca Scothorn (Market Ambassador), Nandini Singh (UNC MPH Practicum Student), Maggie Funkhouser (Market Manager), Laura Perez (Market Assistant Manager). Photo by Tom Simon.

BY ROXANA BOYD

Kellogg’s Breakfast, Black Krim, Cherokee Purple, and Super Sweet 100. On Saturday, July 9, from 8:30 a.m. and until noon, these tomato varieties and dozens more will be on full display during the Carrboro Farmers’ Market Tomato Day. The annual event returns to Carrboro Town Commons for the first time since 2019, after pausing for safety reasons during the pandemic.

Tomato Day draws upward of 6,000 people, making it the Market’s biggest day of the year.

“Tomatoes are a big deal around here,” says Maggie Funkhouser, the Market’s manager, with a laugh. “They’re big enough for us to have a day dedicated to them.”

This year, in addition to the traditional tastings, visitors can taste tomato flights to sample the many varieties. The event will also feature live music, recipes, and special merchandise like Tomato Day shirts and posters. Ricky Moore of Durham’s Saltbox Seafood Joint – who  won the prestigious James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southeast just a few weeks ago – will serve tasting portions of chilled yellow tomato soup with summer garden garnishes. “This is sort a homecoming for me,” he recently posted on social media, “because when I move here 14 years [ago] I worked in Carrboro and I spent a lot of time at the market and bonded with many of the farmers during that time.”

The farmers not only sell their tomatoes but share their knowledge and recommendations with customers, whether they have a recipe in mind or are searching for inspiration.

“It’s really beautiful in that way,” says Maggie. “It’s a wonderful chance to learn about this special fruit, special vegetable, and the farmers that just adore it and really put a lot of love into growing them every year.”

The farmer-customer relationship sets Carrboro Farmers’ Market apart, even on normal market days. Owners must be present during market hours for a certain number of weeks, giving customers a great sense of respect and trust when it comes to the products and where they come from, Maggie says.

The Market, one of the oldest and largest in North Carolina, is thrilled to be one of the 315 (and counting) certified living wage employers in Orange County – their certification became official last month. 

“It’s a point of pride to be able to offer it, but it also is an expression of gratitude,” says Maggie. “It’s a way to appreciate staff members who work really hard and are really good at what they do.”

She and two other part-time staff members work as a team and rely on support from interns, students, the Market’s Board, volunteers, and the community at large.

“We have a really small team, but we do really big things, and we all wear a lot of hats,” she says. Managing the market, communicating with vendors, posting to social media, and writing grants – they do it all.

Maggie learned about the Orange County Living Wage certification program through living wage employers in the community – market vendors, restaurants, and others, including the Town of Carrboro.

“We have a really wonderful relationship [with the Town of Carrboro], and there’s a lot of mutual support,” she says. “Certainly, them being living wage certified is a hugely impactful thing, and it affected me.”

Two of the Market’s vendors are living wage certified – Chapel Hill Creamery and Short Winter Soups.

Flo Hawley of Chapel Hill Creamery. Photo by Tom Simon.

Flo Hawley, owner of Chapel Hill Creamery, wants her employees to be happy. “We want to be fair. We know that things in this area are good for sales, but it’s also expensive to live here, and housing is always an issue,” she says.

“[A living wage] means I can hold down just one job,” says Allana Frost, who works for Short Winter Soups. “I live with a partner, and together we can afford a mortgage and food and take care of ourselves.”

A living wage helps recruit and retain employees during a time when staffing seems to be difficult for everyone, says Flo. She believes her employees stick around because they enjoy local food and working with their hands.

Alanna Frost, kitchen manager at Short Winter Soups, helps customers at a recent market. Photo by Tom Simon.

The importance of local food came into clear view in the last few years, when the pandemic exposed a fragile food system and supply chain, Maggie says.

“We all acknowledge that we need to work together towards a stronger, more resilient local food system,” she says.

Shoppers found empty shelves at grocery stores, but the Carrboro Farmers’ Market could offer those products every single week, Maggie says.

“There’s a real symbiosis in Carrboro,” she says. “We have such a wonderful robust farmers’ market, and we have restaurants that are really interested in featuring local food.”

Justin Ellis, School of Rock general manager/music director.  (Photo by Tom Simon) 

BY ROXANA BOYD

This month, School of Rock in Chapel Hill celebrated five years of music lessons and programs for youth and adults. With more than 300 locations worldwide, including seven in North Carolina, the School of Rock name may sound familiar, but the Chapel Hill franchise carries its own unique feel and takes pride in being an Orange County Living Wage employer.

David Joseph opened School of Rock in 2017 after finding a perfectly situated and special location – the diner on Fordham Boulevard, where he used to eat with his family. While Joseph kept some of the original character like the booths and stools, the exterior lights give it “just a smidge of Vegas,” he says.

The hallways inside are covered with dozens of colorful posters of student shows and album covers, photos of music instructors and students celebrating birthdays and achievements, and a framed living wage employer certificate.

From the beginning, Joseph wanted to attract and retain quality employees who felt appreciated. He also recognized that truly happy employees create a positive environment for students. For employees who want to make music their career, Joseph wants to make that possible for them by paying a living wage.

“People are going to choose their life path,” says Joseph. “But if they’re going to be here in Chapel Hill and they do music, I’d love for them to come hang out with us.”

Justin Ellis, one of School of Rock’s 21 employees, started in 2018 as an instructor for bass, drums, and voice but gradually took on more responsibilities. In 2020, he became the music director.

Two weeks ago, Ellis was promoted to general manager/music director.

“To work for a place that I so desperately wish existed when I was growing up is the coolest thing,” says Ellis. “I definitely have the best job in the world.”

Ellis reflected on his years working in the service industry before joining School of Rock. As an independent musician, he supplemented his income with jobs in restaurants, movie theaters, and warehouses – he thought a living wage workplace was not an option.

“It was conditioned to me that getting two dollars an hour plus tips was what you had to do if you wanted to play music,” he says.

School of Rock’s living wage “signals to our people that we’re doing what we can to take care of them and make it a fun and attractive place to work,” Ellis says. “I think based on our growth and the roster of instructors we have now, it’s definitely working.”

Photo courtesy of School of Rock Chapel Hill

Summer Camps and Shows

Of the 280 students who take weekly music lessons at School of Rock in Chapel Hill, roughly half also participate in a group program, such as Rock 101, Rock 201, and Performance. These students sign up for a theme, spend four months learning the songs, and finish with a show.

On June 26 from noon until 5 pm, Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro will showcase several School of Rock student performances – a mid-season preview show. A $10 donation at the door is suggested and appreciated.

“The whole point of School of Rock is teaching people how to play together as a band and getting them on stage and in front of an audience because that’s where the magic happens,” says Joseph. “I’ve heard from many, many parents that the kid wouldn’t get out of bed for anything, but when it’s School of Rock day, it’s, ‘Come on Mom. Hurry up. It’s time. We’re gonna be late.’”

Photo courtesy of School of Rock Chapel Hill

School of Rock’s popular summer camps for youth are beginning to sell out, but openings remain for two of the camps, including a songwriting camp in August. Ellis enjoys teaching this camp, as he finds he learns more about students through their writing than when they play “Back in Black” by AC/DC on the guitar, for example.

“You see a whole other side of the kids that you just don’t see when you’re drilling ‘Back in Black,’” he says. “I love to drill ‘Back in Black.’ Don’t get me wrong. But getting to know these kids as creative people is definitely one of my absolute favorite things about the camp and the job in general.”