Gavin Newsom Forces Fast Food Franchises To Pay Their Workers $20 an Hour. His Luxury Restaurants Pay Their Workers Less.

Golden State governor's Lake Tahoe cafe advertises job openings at $16 an hour

(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
April 3, 2024

California’s fast food franchisees must hike their minimum wage to $20 an hour under a law Gov. Gavin Newsom (D.) hailed as "extraordinarily beneficial." His own luxury restaurants, meanwhile, are paying their workers less.

Active job listings for Newsom's PlumpJack Cafe, which touts its status as "Lake Tahoe's premier dining destination," advertise "busser," "host," "server," and "food runner" positions with $16 hourly wages. The restaurant is located steps from Palisades Tahoe—California's top ski resort—and features a full bar, fine wines including a $5,300 bottle of Burgundy, and high-priced entrees. Pan-roasted Norwegian salmon, for example, costs $49, while the prime New York strip costs $67.

Another Newsom-owned restaurant—the Balboa Cafe, located in San Francisco's fashionable Marina district—is also hiring. The restaurant seeks an "on-call cocktail server" for $18.07 per hour, according to an online posting. The cafe also offers a full bar and an array of luxury items, including a $38 charcuterie board, $27 wild mushroom risotto, $24 "mussels mariniere," and a $38 filet mignon.

The restaurants' hiring sprees come as the Newsom-backed fast food minimum wage law, which took effect Monday, prompts layoffs and price hikes across California. Starting this month, pizza chains will permanently fire hundreds of workers, state records show. Burger King and other fast food franchises responded to the law by raising prices.

Newsom praised the fast food minimum wage mandate, which he signed into law last September, as "a big deal" and an example that the "future happens [in California] first." He also said the "foundational principle" advanced by the law is "inclusion."

For California state assemblyman Joe Patterson (R.), the discrepancy between the wages offered at fast food joints and Newsom's restaurants shows the governor "doesn't show any sympathy or concern for his own employees."

"I think the proper response is, ‘We think our employees should make the same amount of money, thanks for bringing it to my attention,’" Patterson told the Washington Free Beacon.

Newsom campaign spokesman Nathan Click dismissed criticism over the restaurants' wages, saying the governor's "business and financial holdings are held and managed by a blind trust."

That blind trust, however, is run by a family friend, while Newsom's investment group that controls the restaurants is run by his sister and cousin. The investment group's philanthropic arm, the PlumpJack Foundation, raises money each year for the Representation Project, Jennifer Siebel Newsom's nonprofit.

In 2018, Newsom called his restaurants and other businesses "my babies, my life." He sent more than $18,000 to his PlumpJack Group for fundraising events ahead of his 2022 reelection bid, state records show. PlumpJack’s website still features Newsom as its founder and links to his campaign's fundraising website.

Newsom has a long history of restaurant-related controversies. In 2020, he partied maskless at the French Laundry—an exclusive Napa Valley restaurant—in violation of his own coronavirus protocols.

He also faced flack over the $20 fast food minimum wage law after a report said he pushed for an exemption for bakeries to benefit a donor and former classmate who owns Panera Bread franchises. Newsom denied the allegations.

The legislation was driven by the Service Employees International Union, one of the most powerful labor groups in California, and negotiated behind closed doors before being rushed to passage just before last year’s legislative session ended.