Philadelphia-based Marquis & Co.—a Latina-led vegan restaurant group which includes popular chain HipCityVeg—is taking the lead on implementing a $15 minimum wage across its restaurants. In March, proposed legislation to increase the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 per hour was dropped from the American Rescue Plan (the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus plan). Instead of waiting for the federal wage to increase, Marquis & Co. is taking action to help families recover from the life-changing events of last year, which disproportionately affected women and people of color. Starting in the third quarter of 2021, all nine Marquis & Co. restaurants, including HipCityVeg, Charlie was a sinner, and Bar Bombón, will bring worker earnings up to a minimum of $15 per hour. 

“Despite the intense economic hardship that has hit the restaurant industry and our workers over the last year, we believe that now is the time to do this for our families,” HipCityVeg Founder and CEO Nicole Marquis said. “We believe it not only is the right thing to do for our workers that have been through so much over the past year, but that it is also good for business, and it will help with recruiting and retention as our economy rebounds.”

Minimum wage in Philadelphia is at the $7.25 per hour federal level and, according to the restaurant group, HipCityVeg is the first fast-casual chain to commit to a $15 minimum wage this year. Called “Fifteen for our Families,” the initiative is meant to support the restaurant group’s workers in their current positions and inspire them to grow with the company to achieve management and other career-oriented roles. “Fifteen for our Families is the next important step toward growing our company and culture, building the world we want to live in, and communicating through our actions how much we value those who helped us get through the past year, and continue to contribute to our success,” Marquis said. “We want our team, and their families, to continue to be part of our family.”

The Fifteen for Our Families initiative is an extension of the restaurant group’s mission to support the health of people, animals, and the planet by offering good vegan food and engaging in fair business practices. “I’m proud to have been able to build my career in a company that recognizes the value of people and believes in professional growth,” Rodney Sanders, General Manager of HipCityVeg’s Dupont circle store in Washington, DC, said. “I started five years ago as a line cook, and moved up through the ranks to the highest store level. I meet with the company’s leadership at least three times a week, and we know that we are all in this together.”

HipCityVeg to the rescue 

In 2012, Marquis opened the first HipCityVeg location in Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square area and has since expanded to five Philadelphia locations and two more in Washington, DC, with additional outposts planned for 2021. The chain serves a menu of vegan American classics such as breakfast sandwiches filled with Lightlife’s smoky bacon, JUST Egg, and vegan gouda cheese; customizable Beyond Burgers; vegan chicken sandwiches and nuggets; and much more. 

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Marquis fought to keep restaurants afloat and supported the local community with a variety of initiatives. Last April, Marquis partnered with NBA star Malik “Shake” Milton (of the Philadelphia 76ers) to donate 500 vegan meals and milkshakes to frontline medical workers in Philadelphia and created a donation fund to allow for additional meal donations. A group of companies—including Daiya, Beyond Meat, Gardein, and Follow Your Heart—donated cash and in-kind donations to the fund valued at more than $5,000 allowing HipCityVeg to distribute 1,500 more vegan meals to medical staff during the height of the pandemic. 

In November, HipCityVeg partnered with 19-year-old vegan and social justice activist Haile Thomas to create the Oh Maitake Beyond Burger, a vegan burger with a purpose. The chain now donates $1 from every sale of the Oh Maitake Beyond Burger to Support + Feed, an initiative created by vegan climate activist Maggie Baird—the mother of musicians Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell—in response to the pandemic and the growing issue of food insecurity in BIPOC communities.