Casa Nueva patron donations top $35K

ATHENS, Ohio – Casa Nueva, a restaurant in Athens, announced that its customers have donated more than $35,000 to area food-based charities since September 2012.

When most people eat out, they leave a tip out of habit. But at Casa Nueva, at 6 West State St., Athens, people are not supposed to tip, said Grace Corbin, marketing coordinator for the restaurant.

From January through May 2014, these tips have amounted to just shy of $9,000 for five local charities, Corbin said.

The restaurant is owned by 25 worker-owners who each own a share of the company and do well when the restaurant does well, Corbin said.

When the restaurant first began, the worker-owners decided it was unfair that bartenders and wait staff often received more money than the cooks and dish washers who put just as much effort into keeping the company running, Corbin said.

To that end, Casa Nueva made a habit of gathering all tips and distributing them equally among the worker-owners every paycheck, Corbin said.

However, the Ohio Department of Labor decided the practice was not appropriate in 2012, Corbin said.

The company changed its pricing to reflect the cost of tips, which were then distributed equally as paychecks, and always amounted to more than minimum wage, Corbin said.

But people still left tips, she said. With nothing else to do with the money, the worker-owners decided to give it away, she said.

“We knew we couldn’t keep the tips, but people kept leaving them out of habit. So we decided to put them to good use and donate them to places where they could help,” Corbin said.

As word spread that tips left at Casa Nueva would be donated toward local charities, more people started leaving tips, Corbin said. The monthly record stands at $2,517.17 in tips given to the Athens County Food Pantry in July 2013, Corbin said.

“Although the organizations receiving donations from Casa Nueva’s customers often send thank-you cards to Casa Nueva for the donations, the worker-owners want to make it clear these donations are not from the business itself, but from the customers,” Corbin said.

All monthly tips are gathered and distributed to that month’s charity at the end of the month, Corbin said. Charities are chosen in batches of six by a voluntary committee of worker-owners.

Charities tend to be related to what is happening based on the time of the year, she said. Schools are often chosen in the fall months and food banks near the holiday season.

Other months have their charities chosen based on national celebrations.

Tips received at Casa Nueva in June will be donated to the Southeastern Ohio Food Bank Children’s Program to help families pay for school lunches in the fall, Corbin said.

July’s tips will go to the Timothy House, a local halfway home, Corbin said. August’s tips will go to Athens City Elementary School PTO Organization, September’s to the Athens County Humane Society, and October’s to the Southeastern Ohio Food Bank main program.

Every penny left as a tip goes to that month’s charity, allowing the customers of Casa Nueva, rather than the worker-owners, to make a large difference in their community, Corbin said.