Local restaurant owners pay employees well above new minimum wage starting Jan. 1

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NEW BRITAIN -- At the start of the new year, Connecticut's minimum wage will go from $9.60 an hour to $10.10. But some area business owners have already taken that step, and then some, and they're getting some backlash for it.

Cafe Beauregard in New Britain pays its employees above minimum wage. That's why in March 2014 President Barack Obama stopped there for lunch before delivering a speech about minimum wage at Central Connecticut State University. Days later at the café, Gov. Dan Malloy signed a bill into law making Connecticut the first state to embrace Obama's goal of making the minimum wage $10.10.

Owner Rob Chiovoloni said the public response was unexpected. "My restaurant was picketed because I paid more than the minimum wage," something he says he did on his own, not because the government told him to. That was what the protesters were picketing, and he said it was quite ironic.

The experience is making Chiovoloni feel for Bear's Smokehouse BBQ owner, Jamie McDonald, who is now getting his own unfavorable responses after announcing he is going to pay his employees $15.

The state's $10.10 minimum wage officially takes effect January 1, but on that day McDonald will start to pay his employees almost five dollars more than that.

However, McDonald says "it's not a handout. We're gonna expect a little bit higher service, more efficiency."

He added that the brunt is on the business, not the consumer. "Our customers are not gonna pay for this. It comes out of our bottom-line profit, so we're willing to take a lower profit in order to help our employees."

Both business owners share the same thoughts when it comes to the fight to make $15 the enforced minimum wage.

McDonald said, “I think it could be ruinous for some businesses, but, it's coming. Whether it's two years, three years, or four years, so many businesses need to modify their business plan."

Chiovoloni added, “If I could pay $15 an hour, I would," he said.