Cup of coffee and side of confusion over $15 wage at NJ diner

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SOUTH AMBOY -

A New Jersey diner owner nearly spoiled a visit to an eatery by Gov. Phil Murphy and the state's legislative leaders to tout their $15 minimum wage deal when he initially said he opposed it.

Teddy Lutas owns the Ocean Bay Diner and hosted the Democratic leaders Tuesday as they prepare to vote this week on a measure to phase in a $15 hourly minimum wage over five years.

Lutas initially said he might have to close under the burden of paying workers a higher wage.

"The problem for me, I’ll have to raise the menu. Five dollars for a hamburger will be $10 if the waitresses are making $15 an hour,” Lutas told the lawmakers. “Of course, I'm against because I'm going to go out of business."

But Gov. Murphy assured him that the wage would increase over time and would not be $15 all at once.

RELATED: State Assembly panel advances bill phasing in $15 minimum wage 
RELATED: Lawmakers reach agreement on legislation for $15 per hour minimum wage 

Lawmakers have said that some small business owners have expressed concern about the wage increase and going out of business. But Senate President Steve Sweeney said raising the minimum wage will have the exact opposite effect, adding thousands of new jobs in New Jersey.

“When we raised the minimum wage last time, everyone wanted to argue we would lose 34,000 jobs. We gained [jobs] because when you put more money in the economy it's like tax cuts. If you give them to the super wealthy they put them in the bank. If you give them to the poor they spend it,” Sweeney said.

After Lutas’ comments circulated on social media, Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin sent a statement from Lutas clarifying his earlier remarks. The diner owner said that he didn't realize the wage would be phased in over five years. He said he's not worried about closing and backs the measure.

A final vote on the minimum wage hike could come as soon as Thursday.

The Associated Press wire services contributed to this report.

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