Business partners Andrew McCabe and Ryan Rogers are tired of people looking down on restaurant work as an entry-level job, but they also recognize that making a good living wage in the industry can be tough.
“Before I opened my first restaurant, I was like any other restaurant employee in this city working as a line cook making an hourly wage and trying to figure out how to make ends meet,” Rogers said. “How do I pay my rent? How do I pay my car? How do I pay my insurance? And then: What am I left with?”
With the new Italian restaurant Bar Vetti — opening Monday, Oct. 16 — McCabe and Rogers are testing a different way to compensate employees that they believe will allow workers to make good money and eliminate wage discrepancies between employees who work behind the scenes and those who work out front.
“We want to change that [perception] and make it more of a career path,” said McCabe, who also is executive chef at Bar Vetti.
First, Bar Vetti has a “no tipping” policy, so servers and bartenders paychecks won’t suffer if business is slow. And second, Rogers said all workers would be paid “well above minimum wage.”
“It’s a big gamble for us. It’s an experiment,” said Rogers, founder of the restaurant group HiCotton Hospitality.
He later stated: “It’s one of those things, if you are successful and there’s people coming in the doors, it works. If we’re not busy, it’s going to be a huge financial burden for the restaurant, but it’s a risk we’re willing to take because we think it’s the right thing to do.”
Employees at all Roger’s restaurants — Bar Vetti, Feast BBQ and Royals Hot Chicken — also can get 50 percent of their health insurance paid for if they work at least 30 hours a week, get half off meals at any HiCotton Hospitality restaurant and receive a free meal while working.
Unlike his other two restaurants that are fast-casual concepts, Bar Vetti is a casual sit-down restaurant and bar, where 15 to 20 percent tips for servers and bartenders are the norm. Before adopting the new pay policy for Bar Vetti, Rogers consulted with people at New York-based Union Square Hospitality Group, which has operated under a “no tipping” policy for two years, to see how and if it could work here in Louisville, where Joe’s Crab Shack is the only or one of few sit-down restaurants that doesn’t take tips.
“That really helped convince me that it’s the right thing to do for our employees,” Rogers said. “We can pay the kitchen staff more, we can provide the front-of-the-house staff a real wage every day that they show up to work, and it helps to make it more equitable for all our employees.”
Bar Vetti opens for its first dinner service at 5 p.m. Oct. 16 at 800 S. Fourth St., the ground floor of the newly renovated 800 Tower City Apartments. The restaurant will eventually expand into breakfast and lunch to serve the apartments and nearby businesses, but its current hours of operation are 5 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 5 to 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.
The menu is not American Italian but isn’t strict Italian either. For example, traditional prosciutto is replaced with country ham on one pizza; another features no Italian sausage but country sausage from Jake’s 150 Quick Stop in Bardstown, Ky.
However, dishes focus on the ideas behind Italian food — simple and seasonal. McCabe described the pasta dishes as “pasta with condiments” because they aren’t smothered in sauce. The housemade pasta is just as much a star of the dish.
Menu prices range from $5 for a bite to $28 for an entree.
Bar Vetti also have a full bar menu with aperitivos and spritzes to start the night and digestives to end it, as well as cocktails and wine to enjoy in between. McCabe and Rogers tried roughly 300 wines before settling on 28 to serve in the restaurant.
“We wanted to make sure everything on the menu we were excited about,” McCabe said.
McCabe and Rogers want customers to feel relaxed at Bar Vetti and create a lively, fun atmosphere.
“You are coming here to get away from work and life,” Rogers said, and hopefully get energized for the next day.