Lawrence pub forced to find new business model

When tips vanished with curb-side service, the owners of RPG incorporated a 15% 'hospitality fee' to charges and have kept it ever since.



June 7, 2021 - 10:09 AM

The owners of Lawrence’s RPG, from left, Meghan Morsches, Nate Morsches, Matt Pool and Betsy Pool. (Submitted photo)

Here’s a story of some Kansans who opened a restaurant six months before the pandemic, lost the majority of their revenue and still decided to pay workers $15 an hour.

Like so many real-life pandemic survival stories, it’s more complicated than all the recent political rhetoric about workforce and wages.

In fact, the story of Lawrence’s RPG (Restaurant, Pub & Games) goes all the way back to the 1940s.

Nate Morsches, one of four co-owners, was inspired by his grandfather, Patricio Pascua, who grew up in the Philippines.

“He was about 16, around 1940, before the U.S. entered World War II,” he says. “A Japanese squadron came in and raided his fishing village, murdered his father and brother.”

Pascua fled into nearby mountains with his fiancee, Morsches’ grandmother. A few weeks later they stowed away on a boat to Hawaii. Pascua joined the Navy, fought against the Japanese in the Pacific and then enlisted in the Air Force.

“Once the war was over and his family was safe, he was dedicated to building community,” Morsches says, recalling “massive parties” with food, drinks, singing and dancing at their tiny home every Sunday evening in Hawaii.

Morsches’ parents later moved to Michigan. Fifteen years ago, he and his wife, Meghan Morsches, ended up in Kansas, where Meghan attended nursing school. They both still work full-time as nurses. But Nate Morsches always had “a side hustle.”

One of his partners in those hustles is Matt Pool, now the operations director at RPG. Before getting into the restaurant business, they’d spent a year and a half hosting pop-up events and building a large and enthusiastic following for their concept: food, cocktails and board games. When they opened on Massachusetts Street in September 2019, Meghan Morsches designed the space and built its structures. Pool’s wife, Betsy Pool, runs the library of 1,000 games.

Of the four partners, Matt Pool is the only one who takes a salary. The restaurant’s mission, Morsches says, is to create community.

Still, workers need to get paid. At first, they paid their 25 employees “normal restaurant wages,” Morsches says.

When we opened up for curbside, we realized: No one’s tipping.Nate Morsches of RPG

Then came the shutdown of March 2020. Like restaurants everywhere, they started back up with carryout.

“When we opened up for curbside, we realized: No one’s tipping,” Morsches remembers.

Morsches was proud of how they’d assembled a staff that was diverse in terms of ethnicity and gender identity. They’d had to lay people off, but the ones who remained had been there from day one. They were committed and courageous. And they were making minimum wage.