Little Rock restaurant owners react to approved minimum wage increase

John Iriana, owner of Iriana's Pizza, is skeptical about the long-term effectiveness and impact of increased minimum wage. (KATV Photo)

Locally-owned restaurants in Little Rock are preparing for the consequences, good and bad, after a majority of Arkansans approved Issue 5, which proposes to raise the minimum wage to $11 per hour by 2021.

Minimum wage is set to increase from $8.50 to $9.25 per hour beginning Jan. 1 2019.

It will then go from $9.25 to $10.00 per hour in 2020 before reaching $11 a year later.

John Iriana, who runs a pizza joint downtown Little Rock, voted against Issue 5, noting the potential long-term negative effects.

"It's a no win. It's a job killer," Iriana said. "It's fine in a perfect world but this is a small business and for every dollar that I bring in at the end of the month if I'm lucky if I have three cents left over."

At the moment, Iriana has 18 employees.

"We start them off at minimum wage if they're in college. Depends on their experience and what their actual value is as an employee," he said.

He's been running the business for 31 years and is already working 70 hours per week.

"If I raise prices, I sell less pizzas and I can't afford to do that so I guess John will have to work more hours to make up for the minimum wage," Iriana said.

As for James Smith, he works two jobs -- one in the film industry and another as a serve at Dizzy's Gypsy Bistro.

"I know that if I wasn't making minimum wage, I would be in trouble," Smith said.

Smith already earns well above the eventual minimum wage of $11 per hour.

Darla Huie, the owner of Dizzy's Gypsy Bistro, said all of her 24 employees earn $11 or more an hour.

While not every mom and pop business may be able to do that, Huie noted it's one she's thankful to provide for her employees.

"They deserve to be able to afford food, lodging, transportation, health care, a coat, shoes, basic human needs in modern society," Huie said.

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