David Bonior spent 26 years, from 1976-2002, in the House of Representatives as an uber liberal Democrat Congressman from Michigan. He left Congress after redistricting graced him with a district with a Republican majority, and he failed to win the Democrat primary to be the Democrat nominee for governor of Michigan in 2002. Out of government for a dozen years he now runs two restaurants, and the world looks a wee bit different:
Bonior hasn’t forsaken his liberal heritage. He is a self-described labor guy who hails from a Ukrainian-Polish section in Detroit. His father ran a tiny printing business and had bouts with unemployment, which left a lifelong identification with the working man.
He attended the University of Iowa on a football scholarship and served in the Air Force from 1968 to 1972. The service sent him to cooking school in Virginia, where he learned a few basics. He disclaims any passion for cooking — except the bread pudding — although he loves the “up” vibe of restaurants.
When his family approached him more than four years ago about starting Zest, Bonior became a scrappy entrepreneur. He used his congressional access to knock on every one of 435 congressional offices, dropping off a flier for Zest. He worked the Metro stations, handing out coupons. He went door-to-door, as if he were campaigning.
He knew it was risky. Most restaurants fail within two years. But his stepson and daughter-in-law were experienced in restaurant management. In the process, he gained an appreciation for the profit motive.
“The biggest surprise is how you have to hustle,” he said. “It was an eye-opener. I always heard this when I was in Congress. ‘You should try and own a business someday, Bonior.’ So I own two small businesses with my stepson and daughter-in-law. It’s tough to make it, in terms of profit margins. But somehow you get by and you figure it out.”
He did his homework, talking extensively to the developer, Forest City. He researched the future development, talking to the Business Improvement District. He included in his equation the lunch crowds from the Department of Transportation headquarters and the residential area sprouting nearby. The restaurant adjoins a busy park and plaza where people congregate. Once the area is developed, it will be at a crossroads of 2.5 million feet of residential, retail and office activity.
To make the numbers work, he pays his 50 or so employees — who are not union members — what he calls “the tip wage,” which is $2.36 an hour. He said that when he was in Congress, he worked hard to increase the “tip wage,” but it was a casualty from the successful effort to increase the minimum wage.
Go here to The Washington Post to read the rest.
Can you imagine what Congressman Bonior would have said to Businessman Bonior?
What is this!? You only pay your workers $2.36 an hour and they are non-Union? What sort of sweatshop are you running Bud! Complaining about too many regulations, huh? I guess you would like to serve tainted food to your customers and have them die from fires in the ramshackle restaurant you would throw up quickly if you could? Prepare for an informational Union picket line in front of your two little restaurants of horror my friend, and I am making calls to make sure that all inspections on both of them are up to date! Don’t like it? Go tell a cold hearted Republican!
Of course this is unfair to Bonior. First he would have hit the businessman up for a campaign contribution.