Beyond a Living Wage Paycheck

Photo :   Seretha, 2018 StepUp graduate, and co-owner, Brad Bankos, behind the scenes at EastCut.

Photo: Seretha, 2018 StepUp graduate, and co-owner, Brad Bankos, behind the scenes at EastCut.

Eastcut Sandwich Bar proves ethical business practices don’t have to come at a cost. Owners Brad Bankos and Steve Wuench are dedicated to serving high quality food at a reasonable price and paying employees a living wage. “It’s a big challenge,” says Brad. “But it’s a model we want to stick to.” Opening in July 2018, Eastcut’s menu features “the greatest hits of East coast sandwich culture.”
 
Eastcut has since earned a place in the Durham foodie scene, but finding good employees was harder than Brad and Steve expected. On their first day of scheduled interviews, only one of nine candidates showed up. Fortunately, an acquaintance of Steve’s wife connected them with StepUp Durham. “It seemed like a natural partnership,” Steve recalls. The pair was impressed by how well prepared StepUp graduates were for interviewing and learning new skills. “StepUp is well organized and has a structure for vetting candidates,” says Brad. Three StepUp graduates were hired to open EastCut in positions ranging from cook to server, making up 20% of their team.
 
As part of the Durham Living Wage Project, Brad and Steve are committed to investing in their employees. “Our people are our most important asset. There’s a cost to having turn over and people who aren’t invested,” says Steve.“If we’re able to support employees and give a livable wage, we can retain them.” When one StepUp graduate received her first Eastcut paycheck, she thought it was a mistake and asked if she should give some of it back. It was her first job in the U.S. after leaving Pakistan as a refugee. With her newfound income, she bought a car and is now putting herself through college.
 
Brad and Steve encourage all businesses to consider partnering with StepUp. In a tight labor market, StepUp provides access to skilled candidates people might not find otherwise. “At the end of the day,” asserts Steve, “the employees are the ones representing our business and brand.” 

Written by Dr. Julie Nelson, NCCU professor and StepUp Durham volunteer

StepUp Durham