The Hungry Robot will increase its wages so all employees will earn a minimum of $20 per hour, the pizza restaurant announced on Monday.

Owner Randy Bezdek was prompted to reconsider employee compensation after learning more about what constitutes a living wage in Alaska, he explained in a Facebook post on the Hungry Robot page. Out of fairness for long-term employees, each of the Hungry Robot’s 32 staff members will receive an $8 raise.

A pay increase is something that Bezdek has been considering for over a year. Prior to the pandemic, The Hungry Robot was paying essentially minimum wage, which in Alaska is about $10 per hour. As the pandemic began and work began to get “more intense,” all employees received a 20% pay increase. After this initial pay bump, the minimum workers make is $12 an hour before tips.

Bezdek was further inspired to reevaluate The Hungry Robot’s pay system after reading several studies about living wage.

“I was always just paying industry standard, and I never really stopped to look to see if the industry was doing it right,” he said.

The phrase “living wage” is defined by Investopedia as an income level that “allows individuals or families to afford adequate shelter, food and other necessities.” However, since it is the minimum that people need to earn to avoid falling into poverty, a living wage is not necessarily conducive to having funds for anything beyond the essential or for saving money.

Bezdek said he did not just want his workers to just scrape by. “Employees begin to feel like family to me,” Bezdek said, and he wanted to make sure that they are taken care of. “I don’t really want them to just [make] rent because I’ve been there and that really sucks,” he said, adding that, “I just don’t feel like that’s fair.”

According to research by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the living wage for a single person in Alaska is about $15 per hour. The state of Alaska has determined that people should make between $15 and $16 an hour to survive. Bezdek decided to “round it up to $20,” he said.

Bezdek said that he wants his employees to be able to grow financially and personally, which is difficult when only making living wages.

“We do not want our staff just to make it by, we want them to take vacations, buy a house, have a family,” he said.

In addition to having a comfortable life outside of work, staff are also expected to perform well on the job as they learn and refine how to cook in a wood-fired oven. Workers must meet high expectations from customers and management, Bezdek said, and the skills are worth more than just living pay.

“We concluded that they deserve better compensation for these expectations and these skills as they grow and learn,” he said. “I do want them to earn good money. They deserve it.”

The raise will occur in $2 increments each pay period to allow Hungry Robot to stay afloat financially. If everything goes well, everyone could be up to $20 within two months. If “things are a little slower,” it could take up to six months, Bezdek said.

The establishment will not be increasing prices to pay for the raises; instead, they plan to add new products to increase sales. These include making mozzarella cheese sticks, pizza fries, pizza tots, garlic sticks and, eventually, Detroit-style pizzas.

The Hungry Robot will also be implementing a company-wide quarterly bonus system. All staff will be eligible for the bonuses, which will be based on the number of hours worked. Bezdek said he is also looking into 401K plans, health insurance, paid vacation, tuition assistance and continued education.

“We must take care of those that take care of us,” Bezdek said.

Additionally, the hope is that by ensuring that workers are financially comfortable and happy, the Hungry Robot will ultimately be able to better retain employees. “We always wanted to make sure it was a place where people wanted to work,” Bezdek said, and so far they have been successful.

Despite a statewide labor shortage, Bezdek said he has not had any trouble finding workers. He often hires friends or siblings of current employees. Bezdek has noticed that hiring has “slowed down a lot,” but he said he feels comfortable with the number of staff he currently employs.

Contact reporter Maisie Thomas at 907-459-7544 or mthomas@newsminer.com.

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