Moo Cluck Moo: A Fast-Food Business Model that Works

moo cluck moo

The Detroit eatery has found success with its living wage based business model and has attracted local buzz by doing so.

This post originally appeared at Occupy Democrats

by Marcos Da Silva

Moo Cluck Moo, an upscale fast food joint created by friends Brian Parker and Harry Moorhouse, is eschewing ubiquitous corporate practice by paying its “Culinarians” a starting rate of $12 per hour, a far cry from minimum wage. The Detroit eatery has found success with its living wage based business model and has attracted local buzz by doing so.

“I wasn’t tuned in to the whole living-wage movement,” Moorhouse said. “We just felt that, for a variety of reasons, it was the right thing to do.”

At a time when minimal wage employees of national fast food chains such as McDonald’s, Burger King and Taco Bell are asking for what they call a “living wage” of $15 per hour and staging strikes and walkouts all across the nation in cities like Chicago, Seattle, St. Louis and Washington, D.C., it’s refreshing to see a small business prove thru action that it’s entirely possible to make a profit and run an ethical business practice.

If fact, co-owner Harry Moorhouse thinks he’s earned more respect and allegiance from his workers by treating them fairly. It appears employee compensation directly ties into on-the-job success as workers know that they are being valued and cultivated for long term employment.“What we found is that they are much more tuned in to their jobs,” Moorhouse said of his staff of 12. “They work a lot more efficiently. They take direction pretty easily.”

Seems if you take care of people, pay them well and treat them properly, they’ll stick around

Employee turnover is directly related to how management treats workers, and valuing them beyond a profit driven bottom line is sending the right signal to them. “Quite frankly, these people work really hard,”says Moorhouse who’s got experience behind the front counter, and knows how labor intensive it can be. “This is too hard of a job to pay minimum wage.”

Jennifer Aguilar, a 30-year-old mother of four and employee at Moo Cluck Moo agrees. “The pay is great,” she says, “but the other thing I really like is that they treat you with respect. Nobody yells at anybody. We communicate.” Aguilar literally wears her affection for her new employer on her sleeve, sporting a tattoo of the Moo Cluck Moo logo on her wrist. She says the job has “been like a blessing” and “was appealing to [her] because of the pay and the idea of healthy eating.”

The restaurant boasts a basic menu with a slight twist: natural beef, no hormones, and sunflower oil for frying. It serves upscale salads, hamburgers and chicken sandwiches at affordable prices, made out of quality ingredients such as baby kale, garlic-infused oil and a homemade bun that mixes sourdough and brioche.

But how are they able to serve affordable entrees made out of quality ingredients, and compensate their workforce so handsomely without going out of business?

“We don’t have a corporate overhead, and our CEO isn’t making $50 million a year,” says Moorhouse. “The industry says your labor costs and food costs should both be between 32 and 36 percent of sales, and we’re right there in both categories. We’re paying all the bills out of the cash register”

Just goes to show, aggressive exploitation of unskilled labor driven by bottom line profit margins is not necessarily smart business practice.

Business owners act as if low wages are thrust upon them by circumstances they are powerless to resist. The widespread belief that companies can’t survive unless they pay as little as possible. That a company that pays more than it has to for any input isn’t doing the best it can. But that’s emphatically not true. Pay is a conscious decision. Low wages are not a necessity. They are a choice. And as co-owner Brian Parker puts it, “We don’t just want bodies behind the counter, we want their heads in the game. They’re the face of our company.”

Look out McDonalds.

Photo: Screenshot/MSNBC

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