In D.C., when we meet someone new, the first question we ask is “What do you do?”
Our work is more than just that thing we do to pay the bills. It’s our way of being part of something bigger than ourselves. My work is a huge part of me: I’m a pastry chef and queer feminist small business owner, running Grassroots Gourmet in Ward 5.
As a queer feminist small business owner, I believe strongly that people should not have to choose between their work and caring for themselves and their families — however they define family, and wherever they work. It’s all of our responsibility to make sure that everyone in our city and society has these basic rights. That’s why I support the proposed Paid Family and Medical Leave legislation, which is up for a final vote this Tuesday in the D.C. Council.
A real paid leave program would mean I don’t have to check my feminist and queer values at the door of my business. If my employees faced a debilitating accident or illness, I wouldn’t have to just let them go with no money to live on. Paid leave would mean that when I talk with my partner, who I’m marrying next fall, about having children, we wouldn’t have to sacrifice their care in order to earn a living, or vice versa.
These choices are not abstract philosophical dilemmas. I’m living this now.
Grassroots Gourmet bears the costs of unnecessary D.C. regulations, but the city does little to help me and my staff access real benefits. As a result, I’ve actually decided to close the business I started seven years ago. If the proposed program were in place now, I might very well not be closing. But because I want to be able to start a family, I am shutting my doors and considering future employment that will enable me to access full benefits.
It breaks my heart to close Grassroots Gourmet. I grieve not just for myself, but for my neighborhood and community because D.C. has just lost another queer-owned business. Local businesses are part of our city’s culture, and I was proud to put my values first as an employer while I could.
Mayor Bowser and the Council should support small local businesses like mine by supporting programs like paid leave, and overhauling the District’s many unnecessary, outdated and expensive rules, like excessive certification and licensure fees, gaps in technological accessibility, and regulations that place the financial burden on the employer.
D.C.’s Universal Paid Leave Act would allow all businesses coverage through a shared insurance pool. As a small operation with tight margins, I simply couldn’t afford to pay out-of-pocket for leave — but I could certainly budget to set aside a tiny 0.62 percent payroll tax. That’s the equivalent of selling one or two extra cupcakes a day. I encourage any business owner to do the math and compare the costs of a 0.62 percent payroll tax with what it would cost you to hire and train just one employee if you lost someone.
Plus, that cost is an investment in great staff. When I wanted to hire a talented pastry chef, the perfect candidate took a different job in a bigger company that could offer her real benefits for her family like paid leave.
It’s outrageous that in this current landscape, small businesses like mine will always lose out to larger companies.
With paid leave legislation, the District has the chance to be a national leader and set a standard that all businesses, small and big, can benefit from — and that supports queer people and families. That’s why this pastry chef-feminist-queer businesswoman will continue to fight, even after Grassroots Gourmet closes its doors, until everyone in D.C. has access to paid family and medical leave.
Sara Fatell is a D.C. Ward 5 resident and owner of Grassroots Gourmet. She’s a baker, organizer, Radical Queer Jewish Feminist and partner to the lovely Kelsey Ryland.