Tucson restaurant relies on regulars to cover minimum wage increase

Tucson restaurant relies on regulars to cover minimum wage increase
Gus Balon's Restaurant on 22nd Street. (Source: Tucson News Now)

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - The owners of Gus Balon's in Tucson worked alongside several employees Tuesday, Jan. 2 to reopen the restaurant after a brief holiday break.

Will and Kelli Phillips close the restaurant for two weeks but they still dedicate time and energy to the business by making repairs and upgrades that are too large to handle during the regular work day.

Kelli Phillips' grandparents opened Gus Balon's back in 1965, so she's a third-generation owner.

"I grew up here," she said. "I used to wash dishes when I was probably 8 or 9, and then my mom made me start cooking."

Even before that, Kenny Sager has been working at the restaurant since 1978. What's kept the longest-serving employee at Gus Balon's coming back?

"Her and her mom and all them being so nice to me," said Sager.

He joked that one day he'll work for Phillip's son if that happens in the next 10 years.

Not everyone's worked for the family as long as Sager, but Phillips credits her loyal and friendly employees as a reason for Gus Balon's staying in business through the years.

"I think all my staff deserve the minimum wage increase, but to do that I have to raise my prices," she said.

It's the cost of doing business, according to Phillips. She said cutting hours or splitting up shifts is not an option, so she warned her customers before the holiday break that prices would be higher when the restaurant opened in 2018.

"Most of them are regulars who come in every day since before I was born, and sometimes they still come in twice a day," said Phillips. "We have this really loyal following, so in that respect, I'm not too concerned, right now."

More minimum wage increases are scheduled for the coming years. She said customers need to understand that there is more to the increase than additional dollars in an employee's paycheck. She cited insurance and social security payments as examples.

She said even the cost of her supplies and food products goes up. Phillips considers the increase a big issue for small business owners, but she expects the restaurant to handle it just like when Gus Balon's began accepting credit cards.

"That was a very difficult decision," she said. "It's very expensive for the business owner to accept the credit card so, you understand, you have to keep up with the times."

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