One restaurant for sale as Berkeley's minimum wage increase causes concern for business owners

The owner of Cafe La Mediterranee is selling the restaurant on Berkeley's College Avenue after 36 years.

"It is time for me to retire," said Garbis Baghdassarian.

The owner says the recent raise in Berkeley's minimum wage is by no means the main reason he is retiring. But he says it is a contributing factor.

"It is putting more pressure. I am not against a minimum wage increase, but if it is done gradually," he said.  

On October 1, Berkeley's minimum wage rose to $15 an hour -- that's an increase of $1.25 an hour over last year. But it's a $5 an hour increase over the past four years.

For Betty Munoz, a server at Cafe La Mediterranee and the mother of two children, the latest salary bump barely makes a dent. 

"Obviously you see a little difference in your check. But I have seen things go up to, like the rent goes up, the food, groceries, everything," said Munoz.

Restaurant owners we spoke with say they are happy to see their employees get more money, but they are still wrestling with the consequences.

The raises mean they also have to increase the wages of other workers, raise menu prices and shift some workers schedules around.

“Sometimes you have to deal with lower staff levels than before. Do your best to make less staff work more if you can," said Will Roller, general manager of In The Wood Restaurant on College Avenue.

Berkeley's minimum wage is the same as in San Francisco. And it is higher than in San Jose ($13.50) and Oakland ($13.23).

Small store owners in Berkeley told us off camera they can't raise prices on most items and wish the increases came more slowly and in smaller increments.

“We are all working hard to make this work. Let’s have a data driven and a community oriented process and see what the impact is," said John Caner, president of the Downtown Berkeley Association.

Next year and for the foreseeable future, minimum wage increases in Berkeley will be tied to the Bay Area Consumer Price Index.