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Milt Hankins: Small businesses struggle to survive

Nov. 04, 2013 @ 11:25 AM

During the past several weeks, I have been inquiring about the impact of Obamacare on restaurant employees. I have learned that some larger chain restaurants are cutting employees back to 20 hours per week and reducing allowable overtime hours to avoid paying health and retirement benefits.

Wondering how new benefit requirements might be affecting smaller businesses, I decided to visit a new, local restaurant.

I spoke at length with a partner/owner of The Lamp Post in Ashland. This restaurant is located on Greenup Avenue and 15th Street. He said The Lamp Post has only been open for about eight months, but he has encountered some of the issues I was concerned about when it comes to waitress wages and benefits.

It seems that servers who work over 20 hours are penalized on the amount of federal and state assistance they can receive. This makes it difficult not only for the workers, but managers have to schedule carefully to make sure they are adequately staffed during peak periods.

I also talked to him about how he expected his "small" business to compete with the number of larger, established chain restaurants in town. He said The Lamp Post was doing well and that the local festivals and riverfront activities were having a positive impact. He said, "Growing up, dinner time was not merely meal time -- it was family time. Hours were spent around the table as friends and family gathered to talk about the day's events. Everyone loved the home-cooking and had their favorite dishes."

I gathered that the Lamp Post is working very hard to recreate this family atmosphere. "When you order a meal, you have reserved your table for as long as you want to be here," he said. "And your meals will likely feature recipes right from your grandma's kitchen."

I asked him if they had a specialty. After all, every restaurant should have something no other restaurant features. He replied, "Well, you really ought to try our smoked meat loaf with cole slaw and our desserts, which are made from scratch." Impressively, he added, "Years of love go into each meal we serve."

The Lamp Post sponsors an entertaining First Friday Night arts program. While I was there, a violinist was playing classical music in the dining room. Later, the open microphone featured readings by area poets and an artist was displaying her work.

Thinking I should get back to the subject of hiring waitresses and paying them a living wage with health benefits, I started to ask another columnist-type question, but I discovered that I was too busy noticing the great food, friendly service and wholesome, relaxing atmosphere!

With all the changes that are taking place in the small business world, I think we must, as consumers, patronize establishments that are getting back to the old, tried-and-true customer-oriented business plans.

Once I get this article written, I think I'll go back to The Lamp Post and see what's for dinner!

Milt Hankins of Ashland, Ky., is a retired minister, theologian and freelance writer.

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