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VOICES: Small business looks at minimum wage increase

Businesses on Kaua‘i have weathered many storms, but none have been quite as long or as devastating as the COVID-19 pandemic. As a small island community with limited resources and significantly lower visitor counts, local businesses have severely felt the brunt of the pandemic shutdowns.

Contemporary Flavors Catering has pretty much ground to a halt due to cancelled weddings, no graduation parties, or large gatherings for almost a year. Although we have been fortunate to continue serving customers takeout meals at Mark’s Place (our plate-lunch spot in Lihu‘e), we have lost over 55% of our revenue since the pandemic began.

This pandemic has forced us to make some tough choices, cutting hours for every working staff member, and making the heartbreaking decision to lay off about a quarter of our catering staff. In over 20 years of running our business, this was one of the hardest things we have ever had to do to survive.

It’s true that we’ve managed to survive, but only by taking some difficult but necessary steps. The cost of doing business in this new environment, while following important health and safety protocols, will continue to eat away at our margins. To add to these costs, the state legislature is now moving closer to raising the minimum wage, which would take effect next year.

If our business were booming, we would gladly consider increasing the pay of our employees, but with no new event bookings for the foreseeable future, and the uncertainty about when visitors will return to Kaua‘i, even a small increase could spell the end for our business.

We understand the importance of a living wage and the state law that requires providing healthcare benefits to our employees who work at least 20 hours a week. Our company pays full medical benefits to our staff, which go beyond what is required by state law.

As someone who has dealt with serious medical issues in the past, I recognize the importance of having that extra safety net of health insurance.

While the money we spend on our employee’s healthcare may not be cash in their pockets, it surely goes towards their well-being and, by extension, that of our island community. All that could change if we face an increase in the minimum wage.

We all want to see the people of Kaua‘i thrive. We are one big ‘Ohana, and our business has long supported local organizations, schools and annual events that make Kaua‘i special. I’ve never felt more proud to be born and raised on Kaua‘i as when I see neighbors helping neighbors.

Right now, we need help from our state legislators – not another layer of expenses during a time when businesses like ours are teetering on the brink of existence.

Please help our small businesses by focusing on recovery now, so we can take care of our employees today and try to build for a brighter tomorrow.

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Mark &Wendy Oyama own and operate Contemporary Flavors Catering and Mark’s Place in Lihu‘e.
Source: The Garden Island

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