All the good headlines are taken

When the announcement came that Lynn’s Paradise Cafe had closed, I considered writing a column headlined “(Lynn’s) Paradise Lost,” but before my monthly column’s week rolled around, there was already an article titled “Paradise lost” – in this very paper.

For anyone living outside the Louisville Metro area (or inside it, but also under a rock): Lynn’s Paradise Cafe, an iconically kitschy local establishment for the past two decades, started getting a lot of bad press recently about a dispute with some of its staff over a policy involving “tip-pooling.” Tip-pooling is a voluntary practice, according to the Fair Labor Standards Act, “free from any coercion whatever and outside of any formalized arrangement or as a condition of employment.”

Typically tip-pools split money between the servers and other front-of-house employees who do not always receive tips directly from guests (but who typically do make federal minimum wage): the busser, the food runner, the hostess, the bartender who makes the drinks for a server’s table. Servers can decide whom to include in their tip pool – if they want to tip the dishwasher or a line cook, they can, and nobody in management can tell them whether to or not.

That’s all nearly universally customary. (Except the part about tipping out the cooks. That almost never happens.) Where Lynn’s management got into hot water was by announcing via memos that they would enforce a policy requiring servers to report for their shift with $100 in personal cash in order to expedite this tipping-out process – and then did, by all reports, actually terminate a server for refusing to comply.

You see, tipping on a credit card or debit card has become so much the norm that there just isn’t always enough cash floating around in the registers at the end of the night for everybody to be able to pool and split the tips in cash. Which means management has to front the cash for the tip pool and do all the tax accounting and server-paycheck adjusting. One would hope this is not enough of a problem that the owners can’t bear a few hundred dollars’ cash fluctuation to facilitate end-of-the-night settling up. So then I had another idea for a title: “Everybody into the Tip Pool!” That had also been used elsewhere already.

Keep in mind that tipped employees in Kentucky have a minimum standard wage of $2.13 per hour – you read that right – but the employer has to make up any gap between their hourly wage plus tips and the current minimum wage for other workers in Kentucky: $7.25. It all has to resolve on the server’s periodic paycheck. In other words, the server has to average at least $5.12 in tips each hour or management has to make up the difference when they get paid by check – the check having been adjusted for the cash the server walks with on a nightly basis.

But a server at Lynn’s put her foot down and declared she couldn’t afford to bring $100 cash to every shift, and she was let go. So then I started thinking “Lord of the Fruit Flies” might be a good title … but then I learned this is the name of an actual fruit fly egg drain treatment product, and, as stinky and sordid as I found the whole situation to be, without personal evidence that Lynn’s kitchen was subject to a fruit-fly infestation, I ditched that idea.

The resulting hoopla caused owner Lynn Winter to throw in the kitchen towel. Ultimately, Lynn’s announced it was going out of business after a pretty awesome 20-year run. I may have even contributed to the mystique of Lynn’s myself, taking out-of-town visitors there many times. How could they not love the crazy parking lot sculptures, the corn mural, the vintage Formica tables, the tattooed and pierced servers, the plastic Army men and farm animals, the mismatched salt-and-pepper shakers? Lynn’s had grits and omelets and meatloaf that wasn’t awful, and a bloody mary to die for, last time I checked.

So then I considered “Mary, Mary (Where you going to?),” but all of us over – oh, crap, 45 – know that’s a Monkees song. Hmm.

Lynn’s had a good run and had its heyday. Just like Davy Jones, it may have only played the tambourine, but it sported some crazy cool bellbottoms.

Marsha Lynch has worked at many Louisville independent restaurants including Limestone, Jack Fry’s, Jarfi’s, L&N Wine Bar and Bistro and Cafe Lou Lou. She now works for her alma mater, Sullivan University, as sous chef of Juleps Catering.