Willie Degel: I’m Fed Up

Willie Degel

Op-ed by Willie Degel, owner of the Uncle Jack’s Steakhouse chain, Jack’s Shack, as well as the star of the Restaurant Stakeout television series on Food Network


Last year was the worst restaurant year since the recession. The restaurant industry is being attacked and over-regulated. All of the forced labor increases and minimum wage increases were spearheaded by a bunch of politicians, lawyers, and other morons who have never created a job in their lives. It’s killing the industry.

We can’t simply pass the cost to consumers. The cost of products is going up as a direct result of having to pay more for labor. People can’t afford to have a normal meal anymore! The new norm is street food, food trucks, and picnic meals. Everyone in the industry is trying to figure out how to cut staff and replace them with robots, or self-ordering kiosks.

There isn’t going to be a hospitality industry for much longer. Restaurants are now charging five percent surcharges on checks due to the high cost of operations. The public lives under the misconception that the food service sector is invincible. We have more moving parts than any other industry out there. Everything we buy is perishable. Anybody can steal from us at any time. A restaurateur is only as good as the last hamburger he served. This is no longer the industry I fell in love with years ago.

Willie DegelI got into this business because I love people and I love hospitality. I love service, and building a team. I bartended at age nineteen, and opened my first place at age twenty. Last year I had to fire all of my busboys. The kitchen staff began complaining that although they work harder, the waiters make more money. Every week, everybody asks for more money. The bureaucratic agencies are doing everything they can to create more jobs off taxation and the backbone of the taxpayers, working class, and employers. But where are all of these new jobs going to come from? The restaurant industry was one of the top employers in the country before these regulations. Was that not enough?

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Everything changed a few years ago when the lawyers impinged on our industry and attacked the labor laws. They changed the way insurance companies processed accident cases, and passed new laws so they couldn’t sue. They’re using these laws to redistribute wealth. The lawyers and the government decided that the restaurant industry was a cash cow, so they should regulate it more aggressively. Regulate it. Tax it. Control it. The Department of Health in every town, city and state is out of control! Restaurateurs are not looking to make people sick! My motto has always been, “When in doubt, throw it out.” Frankly, the scrutiny we’re receiving from the Department of Health is insulting.

The issues that are plaguing the food service sector start at the top. This country is being run differently. It’s changing. The crybabies of the world are taking over. Recently, I went to Greece and Italy. Everybody kept saying, “What’s going on in the United States? It used to be the greatest country in the world! What happened?” All of the politicians are remarkably corrupt. They’re all in bed. They’re all unionized. They’re all in debt. We need to kick them out. Now they’ve passed the Family Leave Act. I’m a strong supporter of people having kids and building a family. However, now I have to pay a man for three months since his wife’s having a baby? Whenever he decides to saunter back through my doors I have to give him back his job? Well, then I need to hire somebody temporarily. Why would I want to do that?

They’re going to turn disability into a giant bureaucracy. It’s going to become a big employer for the state and another taxation base just like workman’s comp in New York. Before long, everyone will be taking off three months!

We’ve got a president who, admittedly, is a little wacky, temperamental and egotistical. But he’s showing the public how our Congress and senators are bought and paid for. They divide and conquer us, and distract us in an effort to raise taxes. We’ve got to change the politicians. They’ll do and say anything to get a vote. The entire system needs a reboot, or the food service industry is doomed. We’ll be living in the world from Terminator: Salvation. Good luck, ladies and gentlemen.


Willie Degel is the owner of the Uncle Jack’s Steakhouse chain, Jack’s Shack, as well as the star of the Restaurant Stakeout television series on Food Network. After working as a bartender, he opened his first establishment, Cocktails, in Queens, NY with his brother. The success of Cocktails allowed Degel to open the first Uncle Jack’s eighteen years ago in Bayside, NY. Exceedingly popular, he went on to open two more Uncle Jack’s locations in Manhattan – One on Ninth Avenue and the third in Times Square. In response to a great demand for his homemade family recipes, he began selling the Uncle Jack’s Steakhouse sauce collection, which are available for purchase in his restaurants, gourmet shops, and supermarkets. Most recently, Degel opened an all-natural eatery known as Jack’s Shack.

For additional background on Willie Degel, read the Total Food Service Q&A interview.