Crazy Al here. I am an owner of Short Stack. Couldn’t sit this conversation out. So here are my thoughts on this fine Saturday morning.

Exactly what we wanted to happen is happening. People are talking about this. People are pissed, confused, and simply tired of the pay inequity bullshit that exists in our country. But nonetheless, people are talking. This is step one of lots and lots of steps towards action.

I welcome the online (or in person-hit me up) dialogue.This is the whole point and why we chose to put all this content out there. I dig all the conversation on social media (Okay, maybe not the being called a cunt, a prick and a money-hungry asshole in the same hour...maybe try to spread them out throughout the day) but I recognize that there is so much to do besides post a bunch of shit online…

For people that need an introduction or simply a refresher on living wage and what factors are used to calculate it, I pulled up Madison’s calculations HERE. This breaks down how a person’s living wage differs depending on their family dynamic. So this begs the question-Why is the minimum wage that is mandated by the federal and state government and the living wage so different, especially in the state of WI (who has not raised the minimum wage since 2009)?

We also have had difficulty getting information from the City of Madison as they list a different dollar amount for our city’s living wage, but do not provide any information for people with dependents/families.  Why is it so hard to find a singular answer on current living wage in our state, city and county? We go to two different sites from accountable sources and find different answers. Anyone out there that can give me a clear cut answer, I would appreciate it. (See our current sources below for reference).

As an owner, I am under no LEGAL obligation to pay my employees anymore than $7.25/hour. This is fucked up. How do we change it? How do we encourage employers to pay employees more if the government won’t step up and mandate it?  One way is we fight for legislation to be passed to FORCE the government to step up and increase the minimum wage. Check out awesome orgs like Fight for $15 pushing for higher wages. Another way? We make it public on social media and our blog to start the dialogue. We bring employers to the mat (myself included) and shine the light on our own operation in order to hold ourselves accountable and figure out how to make this work.


We went to our accountants (yes, we have an accounting team that we have been working with for six years to meet this goal of living wages) and had them calculate two things for us to start this dialogue with the public:

#1: What would the the annual increase be in our labor costs if we were to pay EVERY employee (we have 36 employees) their individual living wage: 59% increase (In dollars, an additional $338,200 every year).

#2: Pick one menu item to use as an example: What would a full stack of pancakes have to cost to cover this increase: $11.93. They are currently priced at $7 and we CONSTANTLY get feedback from customers that our food is ALREADY too expensive, making it inaccessible for some customers/potential customers. We waited three years to increase our menu prices (despite an increase in cost of product happening every year) after getting customer feedback that our food was too expensive.

Don’t want to increase pricing/put the burden on the customer? Then we look at cutting our variable costs (things within our control). Our two highest variable costs are labor and food/product cost. Tons of people online have had a common sentiment, “Tell your owner they are an asshole and shouldn’t make so much money.” I make $60,000/year. A reminder that  I need an additional $338,200/year to meet every employee’s living wage. Even if you paid me $0/year, that wouldn’t even cover 20% of the cost needed to make living wage for all employees. So we move to food costs-Do we cut the spending on local/organic ingredients and buy cheaper food to cut costs? Do we sacrifice quality and the support of our local economy/farmers to buy Walmart product? No. Our third highest variable cost is employee benefits. We spend approximately $137,000/year to pay for 100% of our full-time employees health insurance, provide free employee meals, PTO, stipends for work supplies (shoes, chef coats/pants, etc), employee wellness benefits like yoga and meditation, and paid leadership & development, training, and educational opportunities. We are not willing to cut these costs. Not even a little bit.

So besides looking at the issues of increasing menu prices and cutting costs, we also have to talk about educating our employee base about what paying an INDIVIDUAL living wage means. This means everyone could be paid a different amount, and wages would be unequal. This is not a bad NOR an impossible thing. We are working towards EQUITY, not equality. This is our goal. But first we have to start by educating employees/potential employees, so animosity among staff members doesn’t boil over. Here is an example: Let’s say I was a single person who had been working at Short Stack for five years, being paid my living wage of $11.52-$13.01 (depending on your source). Then a new trainee comes in who happens to be a single parent with two dependents (which we have numerous employees at Short Stack w/ dependents). Their living wage in WI is $29.04/hr. So despite having five years more experience, this single parent comes in and makes OVER DOUBLE what I make. Again, let me be VERY clear-this is EQUITABLE, not equal. Our goal is equity, so this is the structure we are working towards. However, the dialogue needs to happen so everyone understands.

I would be VERY interested to find any restaurant in Madison that is paying every employee their living wage. Please-if you know of any or are one, please please please reach out to me ( because I would like to learn from you and figure out how we make this work in our own establishment.

Let me be crystal clear about one thing: Our number one goal is to get to a place where we can afford to pay EVERY employee their living wage (not including the cash and credit card tips that they share with their co-workers). We would ideally like to reach this goal without going out of business. We also want to challenge other employers to look at their own operations and see how they can work towards the same goal. Is this going to piss off other restaurateurs/small business owners who want to keep their financial happenings to themselves? Maybe. The goal isn’t to make friends. The goal is create awareness and move the needle. So we will continue to go line by line with our accounting team to figure out how to do this. We will also continue to have in depth discussions with all our employees along the way about how we make this happen together, as a team.

Accountability time: Currently only 32% of our employees are paid their individual living wage or above at Short Stack. The work continues…

Nothing but love,


You can hit me up at I ask that if you are an asshole, keep your emails to yourself. If you have constructive and/or informative stuff for me that is going to continue to push this forward, I’m all about it.

Our two different sources for living wage in Madison, WI are:

MIT’s Living Wage Calculator (We are going off this one as it provides calculations for employees with dependents and we have numerous employees with kids)

City of Madison (This does not give us information/breakdown for employees with dependents)