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Sustainable Crown Heights Cafe and Bar Hunky Dory Reopens With No Tipping

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Owner Claire Sprouse doesn’t want to go back to the old way of doing business

Three cocktail sit behind the front window at Hunky Dory
Cocktails at Hunky Dory
Megan Rainwater/Hunky Dory [Official]

At Hunky Dory — a Crown Heights all-day cafe and bar that cocktail world star Claire Sprouse opened a year ago — the restaurant’s reopening marks the beginning of an operations overhaul for the well-liked neighborhood hangout.

When Hunky Dory, located at 747 Franklin Avenue, between Sterling Place and St. Johns Place, opens up its outdoor patio on Saturday, customers will notice a pretty big change: Sprouse is removing tipping from the business model.

The practice, she says, has always bothered her on a number of levels. The history of tipping is rooted in racism, tipping encourages racial profiling, and it contributes to the industry’s high sexual harassment rates. Tips also fuel a gaping pay disparity between front-of-house and back-of-house employees, she says.

“It’s mind-boggling to see how unsustainable the system really is,” Sprouse tells Eater.

In the old model, Hunky Dory’s front-of-house staff were regularly making at least double what kitchen staffers on minimum wage would make, she says. After tipping is eliminated, the goal is to have all staffers average about $20 per hour for now, although she notes that the hourly rate will likely look different when the restaurant is operating at full capacity and able to generate more sales.

Tipping behavior has also been all over the place during the pandemic, Sprouse says. Customers vary widely on how much they’ll tip for takeout meals or counter service, and eliminating tipping will remove that now less-dependable variable of how much to expect from gratuities.

“I just wanted to nip that volatile dynamic in the bud because I still believe that employees should be paid the same amount whether they are handing something over a counter or serving to a table,” Sprouse says.

A number of NYC restaurants have eliminated tipping in recent years, most notably Union Square Hospitality Group. But many, including well-known Brooklyn restaurateur Andrew Tarlow, ended up reverting back to a tipping model as diners revolted against the sticker shock of seeing higher menu prices that account for operators paying full wages for every employee, instead of relying on tips to fill the gap.

Sprouse acknowledges that it’s a risky move, but hopes that diners might be more receptive to the idea in the current social and economic climate. She incorporated additional payroll taxes and sales tax into the final menu prices, too, and advertises round numbers to make cash-handling easier and safer for employees.

“I’m fully aware of the challenges that come with it,” she says. “But it wouldn’t feel right, after having the time to reflect on our industry, with the onset of New York on Pause and now open discussions of racism and oppression — I just really don’t want to go back to normal.”

The new menu features vegetable-laden summer dishes like a B.L.T. on housemade focaccia, with potato chips ($20, up from $16 previously); a fried chicken sandwich with pickled cucumbers and hot sauce butter, also served with chips ($20, up from $15 previously); and grilled head-on Louisiana shrimp skewers ($15, up from $12 previously). Drinks include a peach-infused bourbon cocktail with mint iced tea, and a Pimm’s Cup with housemade Pimm’s using food waste from the kitchen.

Outdoor dining at the restaurant will run on a counter service model only, for staff safety reasons. Sprouse does not plan to offer indoor dining throughout the remainder of the year, even if government restrictions lift before then.

But instead of leaving the indoor dining area dark, Sprouse will be converting it into a retail bookshop and grocery store. She also plans to continue doing the food pop-ups that Hunky Dory has been hosting throughout the pandemic — not just with other chefs, but potentially with other organizations important to the local food industry, like the Street Vendor Project, which represents hundreds of street food vendors throughout the city.

In the kitchen, there will be another significant change. The three back-of-house staffers on the reopening team wanted to do away with traditional kitchen roles like executive chef, sous chef, and line cook, and instead formed an equal shared leadership team.

Hunky Dory will be open for outdoor dining and takeout this Saturday and Sunday from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m., and then Thursday to Sunday from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. starting next week. The full reopening menu is below:

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