The exterior of the San Jose City Hall rotunda on a sunny day
San Jose City Hall is pictured in this file photo.

When I worked at Wienerschnitzel in high school, my dream was to one day own a sports bar in my hometown of San Jose. I imagined decorating with 49ers, Giants, Warriors and Sharks memorabilia.

I changed course slightly and I now own three Wienerschnitzel restaurants in Santa Clara County. My restaurants are my pride and joy. I get to talk sports with my customers and employees, and I love when families come in after a game for a meal or a chocolate-dipped cone.

After working for 40 years, my plan for 2024 — at the age of 65 — was to retire and turn my three stores over to my son, Jeremy. That’s no longer happening. Rather than retiring and passing my restaurants to my son, I’m working more hours than ever and making other major changes to survive. And even then, I’m not sure I’ll have restaurants to turn over to him.

California recently passed Assembly Bill 1228, increasing the minimum wage for fast-food workers to $20 an hour — 25% higher than the statewide minimum wage. The law also created a new statewide Fast Food Council charged with developing recommended workplace protections, health and safety standards and training for fast-food workers.

I value my employees and as someone who has been in their shoes, I work hard to treat them well. Some have been with me nearly 20 years and I consider them family. But increasing wages to $20 an hour will cost most local restaurant owners hundreds of thousands of dollars per year, per restaurant. For my smaller Wienerschnitzels, I estimate the cost for each of my restaurants will be about $60,000 per year, per restaurant.

My employees will appreciate the pay bump and I want to make them happy, but this is a significant cost increase for my small business. The cuts I’m forced to make will impact my employees and customers.

For example, I’m not hiring any new employees, and as people have left, I’m not replacing them. I’ve been forced to cut 90 employee hours per week, per store. I used to have 12-14 employees per restaurant, now I have only 8-10. That’s four jobs lost per restaurant. I have a stack of 50 applications on my desk from people who want to work in my restaurants. It’s unlikely I’ll hire a single one because I simply cannot afford to.

My son and I are filling the gaps, working 50-60 hours per week.

I’m also going to be forced to raise my prices which will obviously impact my customers. Families are already struggling to make ends meet, so it weighs on me to raise prices at all. But if I don’t make these changes, I’m worried about my ability to stay afloat.

To make matters worse, there are some who are pushing the San Jose City Council to go even further by passing a costly restaurant ordinance that would substantially increase the cost burdens for local restaurants, and by extension our customers and our employees.

Not only would this costly restaurant ordinance make it even more difficult for local restaurant owners to run our small businesses, it would also be unnecessary.

San Jose restaurants are already struggling to absorb the costs of the new state law. We can’t survive costly new mandates.

If San Jose councilmembers care about small businesses in their districts, they should abandon the idea of this costly restaurant ordinance.

With so many urgent issues facing San Jose, including crime, homelessness and a $52.1 million city budget deficit, it seems ill advised to waste city time and resources on a duplicative restaurant ordinance when the state has a new Fast Food Council charged with addressing these very issues.

Worse, if this costly restaurant ordinance is passed, how will it work for local restaurant owners if the state mandates differ? Or conflict? How are small restaurant owners like me supposed to make sense of this?

Local restaurant owners in San Jose are diverse and vital members of our communities. We’re proud to provide jobs, support to local charities, contribute to our economy and invest in our neighborhoods.

San Jose should protect local restaurants like ours, not push costly and unnecessary restaurant mandates that could close our doors for good.

Joseph Marques owns three Wienerschnitzel restaurants in Santa Clara County.

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