Chico restaurant displays dynamism during California wage increase


Ian Hilton

The Drunken Dumpling gang, ready to please your palate.

Restaurant owners John Dean and Lizzy Young repeat what many business owners say: they value their employees, they care about their employees and they wouldn’t have experienced such success without their employees. Drunken Dumpling, located at 1414 Park Ave., delivers on honoring their employees with more than just the new state minimum wage.

The current federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, unchanged since 2009. Although the Biden administration’s proposed COVID-19 relief bill includes raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, the likelihood of that federal increase appears questionable.

California has made a priority of hedging poverty by implementing a state minimum wage increase to $15 an hour by 2023. As of Jan. 1, the Golden State’s minimum wage was raised to $14 an hour for businesses with 26 or more employees and $13 an hour for 25 or fewer.

Drunken Dumpling is “ahead of the curve,” Dean said. “We’re really only as good as the staff that we have here, and we want to maintain that.”

Beyond paying a living wage and distributing Christmas bonuses, Dean and Young’s philosophy toward their employees extends to a more personal level.

“If [an employee is] a fit, we want to keep these people, we want to make them happy,” Dean said. “And only one of the ways is through compensation.”

Young said that, when hiring someone, she makes sure to ask about boundaries and limitations, such as schedules, ongoing obligations and people simply being overworked.

“I don’t want to exceed those limits or boundaries because, all in all, it’s just not sustainable,” Young said.

Drunken Dumpling’s employment philosophy is a pie. A wage is just one piece of it, and the whole revolves around respect.

“I’m not going to give anyone a hard time because they’re sick,” Dean said. “I’m not going to give anyone a hard time because they’re a few minutes late because they have kids at home. I’m not going to give anyone a hard time because they have to bring their child to work because daycare rates would wipe away a shift’s wages.”

Beyond compensation and understanding, Drunken Dumpling advocates individual freedoms not inherent in culinary.

“Individuality is important, and it’s appreciated here,” Young said. “We’re not looking to have everybody fit a mold. In fact, we want individuals to be themselves.”

Dean couldn’t agree quickly enough, adding that this concept affects sales.

“I believe in my heart of hearts that [individuality] has made the business better,” Dean said. He described how encouraging staff members’ creativity is beneficial.

“In my kitchen, I let [staff] have artistic freedom, to be able to explore different ways of plating items,” Dean said. “As long as they’re using the medium I want, that’s totally and completely fine. And they love it. They get to come up with their own ideas of how to plate things, and I’m telling you, it really, really works great; the people here are artists. I see these plates coming out and they’re absolutely gorgeous. They get their own stage.”

Dean and Young say they thought ahead regarding rising state — and potentially, federal — compensation; there are ways to accommodate their employees, their customers and themselves.

Their approach involves saving on costs without cutting corners. This includes utilizing farmers’ markets, seasonal foods, maintaining a specialized, quality staff and getting their own Durham-based farming operation off the ground.

Young said that Drunken Dumpling will likely have to raise prices to keep up with state minimum wage due to slim profit margins, which is not unusual in the restaurant industry.

They stressed that making money wasn’t why they started their business. Drunken Dumpling is Dean and Young’s statement of communal consolidation, integration and unity.

Regarding efforts to ease poverty and promote a better quality of life, it seems a minimum wage is only a piece of a pie. Better business is indicative of recognizing respect.

Ian Hilton can be reached at [email protected].