Small Business Voices: Amy & Chris Hillyard of Farley’s Coffee

2 mins read

The City of Emeryville’s Council-initiated, $14.42 minimum wage ordinance would be the highest in the nation and a 60% overnight hike for most businesses. The E’ville Eye wanted to provide a forum for small business owners and stakeholders to speak out on the personal impacts this will have on them and their opinions on how best to implement this (we’ll be posting a worker perspective piece on this next week). Our third entry is Chris Hillyard who owns Farley’s Coffee on 65th along with his wife Amy. Chris & Amy opened Farley’s along Emeryville’s Greenway in 2010. Farley’s tagline is “Community in a Cup” and they stand behind this by putting their money where their mouth is (including supporting this news blog).

Farley’s is in a unique circumstance as they have three businesses in three different cities all operating with different wage structures (SF, Oakland & Emeryville). With twelve employees at his Emeryville location, Farley’s is right on the margins of Emeryville’s proposed small business definition of ten employees and would be faced with a difficult decision of having to scale his business back to fit within this narrow “phase-in” parameter.

The complete Proposed Minimum Wage Ordinance Draft can be read here. The City will host a special Minimum Wage Study Session on Tuesday at 6:30pm at City Hall with both sides of the argument expected to be present.


Farley’s on 65th celebrates its five year anniversary next month. We have recently renewed our lease for another five years because we believe we have a great product that the people of Emeryville, Berkeley and Oakland enjoy. Emeryville has become very much part of the Farley’s identity and we wish to continue being one of the little gems in town. Farley’s started twenty-six years ago in San Francisco and then six years ago we opened in Oakland. That gives us 37 years of combined operations and the draft ordinance with respect to a minimum wage of $14.42 is potentially the biggest threat to our existence in that time.

Farley’s on 65th makes numerous contributions to the neighborhood that range from featuring a local artist every month, to supporting Emeryville non-profits through a monthly program to raise funds and awareness for their respective causes. To date, we have donated over $5,000 to Emeryville based non-profits. I don’t think many small or large businesses have this track record. We do this because we believe in being a part of the community. We also believe in supporting our employees. Many are like family to us and we do everything we can to provide a great work environment for them.

When Measure FF in Oakland went into effect on March 2, we implemented the same laws for our Emeryville employees. Thus, all employees earning under $12.25, received a raise to that amount. Additionally, all Emeryville employees now receive “sick days” as specified under Measure FF. We made these changes not because we had to, but because we want to treat our employees equitably across our locations. Further, a standardized pay and time-off structure, minimizes the complexities of running a small business. We do not have corporate support to handle our HR, payroll, and other management functions. Thus, every change, variation and management issue is handled directly by an Owner or a Cafe Manager.


While the ordinance currently has a phase-in period for small business, we hope that the City Council can take a more reasoned approach to the definition of a small business. The ordinance cites ten employees as a small business thus eliminating our little cafe of 12! Numerous definitions exist and none other than Measure FF in Oakland, use ten as the metric for defining small business.

At the end of the day, we too see this issue as a matter of economic and social justice. There is an opportunity to lift up the low wage earners in our city. As business owners, we believe this needs to happen and support an increase in the minimum wage. We urge council to do what makes social and economic sense for employees AND employers.

With Respect,

Chris and Amy Hillyard
Owners, Farley’s on 65th

Feature Image: CaliforniaBeat.com

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The E'ville Eye Guest Contributor series invites local officials, business owners, residents & neighbors to share their opinions and voice about a broad range of subjects involving our city. Contact us if you're interested in submitting an editorial or story.


  1. The # of employees to be a small business hasn’t been decided! Hence the word “draft”. Rob, I can’t figure out what you have against people living in poverty, but you’re not even making a “show” of objectivity on this issue. It’s ridiculous.

    • Please look up ^^. I wrote “Proposed” which is the same connotation as “draft”. Perhaps you could ask council how many people this will actually lift up out of poverty. They don’t know because they fundamentally have not done the work & research to determine this.

    • In addition, I did in fact write “Draft”. Please as least read the article before you jump to conclusions and make accusations.

    • Thanks for having “our back” Nicole. It only annoys me when people criticize without actually reading the article. It goes with the territory I suppose.

  2. Every business makes choices. Farleys makes the choice to be open only limited hours and to have a very limited menu. Who’s to say that if they handled those choices differently their bottom line might more easily support the better wages proposed. Please don’t make us “cry” over your third business, from which you take profits, not being able to maintain this comfortable little coffee house feel because you need to raise the bar on what it costs to do business in a generally wealthy area.

    • so you’re second guessing the guy for not making more money while criticizing him for being a little successful and having three stores.

      Read your “who’s to say” sentence again. Doesn’t it apply equally well to the minimum wage worker? Why is the business owner’s lack of massive profitability a sin but the employee’s lack of profitability a sign of his goodness?

      A minimum wage job is a step on a ladder we’d like people to climb. Most do.

      • What a flawed concept. What proportion of our populace should be resigned to the bottom rung, patiently waiting for their chance to live a financially stable life? Many people are not climbing and there will never be enough space at the top for everybody to be able to enjoy the wealth this nation collectively has. Even if every fry cook at McDonalds becomes quadralingual, learns advanced calculus, trains under Gordon Ramsay, and can juggle chainsaws, there is still only going to be 1 manager and 10 fry cooks. Why should those 10 fry cooks wallow in poverty? As long as most places of employment in this country are structured in a pyramidal hierarchy, there will always be a huge group of people stuck making minimum wage, regardless of the overall skill level or education level of our society. We can choose to force companies to support this bottom level enough so that they can live happy, stable lives, or we can continue to watch the income inequality in this country skyrocket.

  3. The assumption you’re making is “once a fry cook, always a fry cook”. That’s just not reality. 75% of people who earn minimum wage in any given year advance to a higher wage in less than one year. You only have to juggle chainsaws to get to the fifth or sixth rung of the ladder, not the second or third :-). Everyone has the potential to advance and almost all do. Poverty in this country is not primarily about minimum wage but about unemployment. We need to help people get to the first rung, not raise the first ring so high that it’s completely out of reach.

    A quick stat for you: of the 5 states with the highest unemployment all have a minimum wage higher than than the federal requirement. Of the 5 states with the lowest unemployment only one has a minimum wage higher than the federal requirement.

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