A national push to raise wages for service and food workers to $15 an hour is winning another convert in the Boston area, drawing praise from Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who wants the power to set wages in the city above the state minimum.
Bon Me, a Vietnamese-inspired lunch chain and food truck operator, said Monday it recently increased its starting wage from $11 to $13 per hour, with plans to increase the rate to $15 within two years if its growth can support the higher costs.
“Our successes could not have been possible without the hard work of our employees,” cofounder Ali Fong said at the company’s Roxbury headquarters. “We want Bon Me to be a business that takes care of its people by helping them provide for themselves and for their families.”
Walsh, who supports gradually raising the state’s minimum wage to $15, lauded Bon Me for “investing in the workforce.”
Walsh, who has formed a task force of workers and employers to study the prospect of a $15 per hour minimum wage for Boston, said cities should have the power to raise minimum wages on their own. But state lawmakers would need to grant that ability, something Walsh acknowledged wouldn’t happen in 2016.
“We have to make sure that everyone in the city has an opportunity to earn a living wage,” Walsh said. “We’re becoming a city of people who can make it, and people who have to move out. And we have to do better than that.”
Bon Me’s higher wage announcement comes amid a campaign by labor groups to increase pay for hourly workers across the country. California and New York have already approved plans to phase in a $15 minimum wage statewide, while officials in Seattle have implemented a similar plan in their city.
Bon Me, which employs about 165 people, joins a handful of other local restaurants implementing base wages substantially higher than the state’s $10 an hour minimum pay.
The Just Crust pizzeria in Cambridge’s Harvard Square, for example, starts its cooks at $16 per hour. Cashiers make at least $13 per hour, but that rate can easily top $15 when tips are included, general manager Joaquin Filho said.
Simon’s Coffee Shop in Cambridge also starts at about $11-$12 per hour, owner Simon Yu said, but workers can top an effective hourly rate of $15 or more with tips.
“We’re in a little different position than normal chain shops … we’re a little more specialty,” Yu said. “From that perspective, I wanted to be not just competitive with other shops, but more than competitive.
The Massachusetts Restaurant Association, which opposes a higher mandatory hourly wage, said workers are already taking home higher pay because restaurateurs are having trouble filling jobs. Announcements such as those from Bon Me show that employers will increase wages without government pressure, association spokesman Steve Clark said.
“We have a 4 percent unemployment rate. At that rate, there are people that are not taking those jobs,” Clark said. “Outside of a family-owned pizza shop where half of the people are in the family, there’s not a restaurant that is fully staffed.”
The push to increase wages to $15 also affects specialized areas such as health care. Boston Medical Center, Tufts Medical Center, and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center announced earlier this year that they would start raising their lowest wages to $15 per hour this year.
Bon Me, which operates five restaurants and six food trucks, plans to nudge base pay higher by 25-50 cents each quarter as long as its growth can support the increases, chief executive Patrick Lynch said.
Bon Me is examining ways to streamline its management structure in order to afford the wage increases, but the company also expects to simply reduce profit margins, Lynch said. On the other hand, the higher pay should help Bon Me hire and retain workers, he said.
“I’m hoping that will offset a lot of the costs,’’ Lynch said.