By Stan Bush

DENVER (CBS4) – Restaurants live and die on the success of their kitchen staffs, and now one restaurant wants them rewarded for it.

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Duo Restaurant, a favorite amongst Denver’s voracious foodie culture, is adding a 2% surcharge to every bill. The charge, called a “Kitchen Livable Wage Surcharge”, goes directly to the kitchen staff, divided equally.

“In think job market it is tough to keep great people. It’s tough to find great people,” says owner Keith Arnold. “I like to think people stay because its a great place to work, but at the end of the day people have to pay their bills and rent and feel like they’re going to be paid in an equitable way.”

At issue is the basic math to run a restaurant. When prices go up due to any changes wait staff and bartenders, who usually make minimum wage, get a pay increase reflected in bigger tips. Kitchen staff do not. Arnold say the pay gap between the front and back of his restaurant become too big to ignore.

(credit: CBS)

“Because of that disparity there are times where it doesn’t feel right.”

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Executive Chef Tyler Skirvanek has been with Duo for more than a decade and helped draft the new policy. He says the inability to make a good wage scares good talent from entering the food industry.

“It’s just not comparable to working and living in the city of Denver right now. The cost of living just keeps going up and the wages aren’t going up. There’s this dispute and is where we feel we can make a difference.”

Duo Executive Chef Tyler Skirvanek (credit: CBS)

The restaurant has had positive feedback from customers on their mailing list, but they are still nervous about how successful the new charge will be. Arnold says his restaurant usually only make a 3-4% profit and the change runs the risk of scaring off business. Still he says it is the right thing to do, riding on 12 years of success in a neighborhood that has grown up around the dining hotspot.

Skirvanek hopes other restaurants will follow their lead.

“We’re hoping people support us and stay behind it and that’s why we’re trying to be transparent about it.”

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Stan Bush is a general assignment reporter at CBS4. His stories can be seen on CBS4 News at 10. Read his bio and follow him on Twitter @StanBushTV.