For these B.C. businesses, $15 is already the minimum wage

Local business owners say it doesn't come without costs, but it's just good business to invest in your employees.

'We made a decision to make less money to make this happen'

Alistair Durie, CEO of Vancouver coffee chain Elysian, has been paying his employees $15 an hour since 2015. He says the extra cost has been worth the payoff in terms of employee happiness and retention. (Natasha Frakes/CBC)

A $15 minimum wage is coming to B.C. in 2021, but for some, it's already here.

In fact, Alistair Durie has been paying his employees a minimum of $15 an hour since 2015.

Durie is the CEO of Elysian, a coffee chain with four locations in Vancouver. He says the move didn't come without costs, but the investment has paid off.

"We made a decision to make less money to make this happen," Durie said. "[But] you have to look at, what is it worth? What do you get?"

"Happiness is something very hard to measure."

A 'more equal playing field'

Coffee chain JJ Bean made headlines in January when it started paying its Vancouver employees salaries to match Ontario's minimum wage of $14, increasing their coffee prices slightly as a result.

But in the end, Durie says, paying decent wages is good for business.

"I think that [Elysian] is a happier place to work [as a result]," he said. "I'm certainly happier to come to work and other people are happier to come to work, and I think our customers are happier."

Mickey Mackenna is one of Elysian's baristas. She says higher wages are indicative of a company that cares about its employees. (Natasha Frakes/CBC)

Mickey Mackenna has worked in the service industry for the last seven years, the last three months of which have been at Elysian. She says the wage was appealing, but the main reason she took the job was the feeling of respect the company seems to have for its employees.

"They're invested in all of us as people, not just as people doing this job," Mackenna said. 

Higher wages reduce turnover

Johnny Rockets, a successful American hamburger chain, has been testing the waters of the Canadian market in recent years, opening two locations in Victoria and one in Vancouver, with a second Vancouver location on the way.

Lewis Gelmon, president and CEO of the JR Canada Restaurant Group, has been paying employees at the Vancouver location $15 since it first opened in September 2017. He says the move has lead to much higher employee retention — a challenge in the restaurant industry.

According to Gelmon, a typical restaurant turns over about 120 per cent of its staff every year, but he hasn't had to hire anyone new at the Vancouver location since it opened.

"According to that statistic, we should have turned over half our staff by now, and we haven't lost a single person," he said.

"Ultimately, it makes sense from a business standpoint to have really well-treated staff," Gelmon said. "I couldn't see us paying people less than a reasonable wage and expecting them to give us their best performance."

Rising costs inevitable

Opponents of the minimum wage increase have argued that employee wages are often one of a business's largest expenses, especially small businesses. Anita Huberman, CEO of the Surrey Board of Trade, has been calling for the $15 minimum wage to be rolled out over five years rather than three, saying businesses need time to adjust to the increasing costs.

But Durie says rising costs are a part of doing business — not only from wages, but taxes, goods and pretty much everything else.

"If you're running a business that's susceptible to those increases, that it's actually going to threaten the life of the business, maybe you have to really adjust the whole thing," he said. "You might not be in the right business if rising costs are going to threaten your business in that way."

With files from Natasha Frakes and CBC Radio One's The Early Edition.