Want to Start a Revolution? Eat This Sandwich

BostonSupport Workers

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A fast food restaurant is attempting to ignite a revolution in its industry. It’s up to us if they succeed.

But first, an introduction–let’s play a quick round of the word association game.  I say a word and then you say the first words that pop into your head. Ready? The word is “Fast Food.” Go.

I’ve played this game with people before and the first words that came to their minds were things like “Greasy,” “Fattening,” “Factory farms,” “Low wages.” Clover Food Labs, a Boston-based fast food chain, is the opposite of all of these things.

Clover serves sandwiches and sides that are healthy, incredibly unique and severely delicious. They don’t sell burgers. Clover makes things like Chickpea Fritters and Blue Oyster Mushroom sandwiches with a side of corn salad and homemade soda or local craft beer. It’s all super fresh. Much of the food is sourced from smaller local farms. Inside the restaurants you won’t find a trash can or even a recycling bin; every bit of packaging they give you is made from bio-based materials and goes in a compost bin. In fact, Clover was likely the very first restaurant in the country to go 100% compostable (they’ve had some trouble with their composter lately, but that’s another story).

Now Clover is on a quest to provide pay checks to their employees that are as sustainable as their environmental practices. Ayr Muir, Clover’s founder, announced last November that they were starting an experiment to try to raise the average wage in their restaurants to $20 an hour—a rate unheard of in the fast food industry.

“We’ve been tearing apart the food system, rebuilding almost everything in a smarter way, but haven’t focused our efforts on wages,” Ayr said in a blog on his decision to start raising wages. “I assumed what everybody in my industry believes about labor. I assumed it couldn’t change much. But woke up one day and realized I had it all wrong.

“Low wages mean instability. They make crazy little things in life like paying to get on a MBTA bus to go to work an obstacle. You might worry about where you’re going to live. It might be hard to maintain relationships. You might be late to work. So here’s my argument: I think we can’t build a long-term sustainable food system without changing our labor practices.”

If Clover is successful it would be a huge statement, proving that living wages in fast food are possible.

But here’s where we all come in—Clover needs our help to achieve this change.

That’s because for Clover to afford to increase its wages to such a high level while still remaining in business, they have to raise prices. So last November they started raising prices about 25 cents per sandwich every few months and raising wages in tandem with the price increases. It will take about two years in total to hit the $20 per hour mark.

Clover is hoping that people will be willing to pay a little bit more for a sandwich if it means a more stable life for the person making it. In other words, Clover is betting that people will vote with their dollars and they will be able to provide good pay while still running a successful business.

Clover Food Labs has already proven that environmental sustainability and growth can go hand in hand. They’re rapidly expanding. They started with one food truck in 2008 (retrofitted to run on used vegetable oil, of course). Now they have four trucks and nine brick and mortar locations. They plan to expand to Washington, D.C. this fall. Their ambition is to be bigger than McDonald’s.

Imagine if a fast food chain was able to grow and ultimately achieve national scale while being healthy, environmentally sustainable and paying a living wage. Other businesses who saw Clover’s success would be more likely to follow suit.

This could spark a real revolution. And all we have to do to help is go to Clover and eat a really good sandwich.

If you’re not in the Boston area and can’t eat at Clover restaurants but support Clover’s efforts to pay a living wage, visit Clover’s blog and add a comment to show your support!

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