By Molly Snyder Senior Writer Published Jun 17, 2021 at 4:01 PM

The service industry is one of the largest and fastest-growing sectors of the United States economy, but it's also the lowest paying. Restaurants and bars include seven of the 10 lowest-paying jobs in the country and these workers are twice as likely to need food stamps as the rest of the US workforce, and three times as likely to live in poverty.

And yet, these jobs were labeled "essential" during the pandemic, suggesting they play a crucial and irreplaceable role in everyday life. Valeri Lucks, CEO of Pie Incorporated (Honeypie Cafe, SmallPie, Palomino), is one of many business owners across the country who changed their business structure to provide their workers with a living wage (or an hourly rate that is closer to a living wage.)

“We need to have a bigger conversation about the hospitality industry jobs that were deemed so important that we needed to keep operating during a pandemic,” said Lucks. “We did not get to stay at home, there was no work from home option. We all considered these workers 'essential' and I think we all saw how important to our communities and skilled the positions they hold are. We should treat them as such and that should be reflected through better wages and benefits."

In March of 2020, Lucks decided to forgo traditional “tipped employee wages” and transition to a One Fair Wage pay structure.

One Fair Wage is a national coalition, campaign and organization seeking to end all subminimum wages in the United States and increase the sustainability of wages and working conditions in the service sector.

This adjusted the pay of all Pie Incorporated’s front of house and back of house staff to a base rate well exceeding the full minimum wage and created a fair, non-discriminatory tip pool for all team members.

“We have always done our best to treat our service jobs as the skilled careers they are and the pay rate needs to reflect that," says Lucks.

Not only has this pay structure helped to improve the wages for the group’s staff, but it has also aided in recruitment during a time when many of Pie Incorporated’s peers in the industry are battling a labor shortage.

“No one wants to return to hard work for small pay and poor treatment,” said Lucks. “We have had few problems finding talented people that want to work for us. We work hard to be a place people want to work.”

That likely means consumers need to accept higher prices or service charges on menus so more restaurants can provide living wages and benefits.

"The restaurant industry has a terrible history of treating the jobs within it as unimportant and workers as disposable in order to keep prices lower. It is time to change that,” says Luck.

Pie Incorporated’s flagship restaurant Honeypie Café will be celebrating the grand opening of their new location at 2569 S. Kinnickinnic Ave. on Friday, June 25 from 5 to 9 p.m.

Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.

Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.