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Mary Pickels
Employee Lindsay Bonnett checks on a lunch order at Major Stokes restaurant in Greensburg.

When hiring for his new restaurant, Major Stokes, 108 W. Pittsburgh St. in Greensburg, owner James Bosco leads with the news that all staff members receive the same salary. In addition, 50 percent of all tips go back to the community in the form of contributions to various local charities.

It can be a telling moment in a candidate’s hiring potential. “Sometimes eyes would roll a little bit,” Bosco says.

But it’s part of the business model he had in mind when planning to open his small plates restaurant.

“It’s really a part of the sustainability movement and supporting the local community,” says Bosco, a Seton Hill University assistant professor of hospitality and tourism. Bosco also is a Sustainable Pittsburgh Restaurants advisory board member.

His staff, who may serve as cook, dishwasher or server, all in on day, are comfortable with the idea that most roles are interchangeable.

A higher wage, a community contribution

On a recent busy weekday afternoon, David Sobota, chef; Chris Ulrich, front of house manager; and Lindsay Bonnett, server and supervisor, along with Bosco, perform a culinary choreography of sorts, all moving between kitchen, bar and dining areas.

All have food service industry experience and all buy into the idea of sharing tips with each other and the community.

“I’m a sustainable guy — I compost, garden, and I hate plastic bags,” Ulrich says. “There is no reward if there is no risk,” adds Sobota, who intends to invest in the restaurant. He has no problem sharing the wealth, so to speak. “It makes me feel like I’m invested in the community as much as the restaurant,” he says.

Bonnett says she appreciates the smaller portion sizes.

“As a server, I almost never throw any food away,” she says.

The $10 per hour salary all workers earn allows everyone to count on a specific income, depending on hours worked, Bonnett says.

“The tips are kind of like a bonus,” she adds. Tips are turned in at shifts’ end, counted, processed through payroll depending on hours worked, with one-half going out the door to a charity, Bosco says.

“The people I’ve assembled understand going in what it is, and get to feel good about it. It’s not me giving the money, it’s a collective team, the Stokes’ family, wanting to contribute to Greensburg,” he adds.

Helping out close to home

November’s recipient of $2,500, one-half of the month’s tip total of $5,000, is the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill.

“The Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill are grateful for this unexpected gift, especially during this Christmas season when they have recently taken on a new volunteer ministry to help reunite families and keep them safe,” reads a statement from the U.S. Provincial Council of the Sisters of Charity. “The generosity of the Major Stokes Restaurant will help defray the costs of sending volunteer sisters to El Paso, Texas, where they are helping persons who have legally entered the United States and are approved to re-locate to their final destinations.”

Bosco anticipates that as the customer base grows, Major Stokes may be able to boost monthly charitable donations to $6,000.

He says detractors wondered how he could make a go of an eatery with no freezer, no fryer and a daily rotating menu.

“I teach my students you can make a good living with imitation. You can make it big with innovation,” Bosco says. “My big wish is I don’t want to be the only one doing this. … Even if a couple of organizations start falling in with it, the impact will be exponential.”

Mary Pickels is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Mary at 724-836-5401, [email protected] or via Twitter @MaryPickels.

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