When Restaurants Behave Badly
In the annals of bad restaurant behavior, this past week has been a doozy. Scarcely a day has gone by without news of stolen wages, indictment for tax evasion, or just plain crazy-ass behavior. Obviously, shady business practices and shitty treatment of workers are nothing new in the restaurant industry, but with any luck would-be miscreants will take a lesson from the sins that were exposed over the past five days. After the jump, the week's greatest hits.
The latest and most egregious example of bad and patently illegal behavior came yesterday afternoon, when news broke that the State Labor Commission had found that more than 200 workers in 25 Brooklyn restaurants had been denied the legal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. One of the worst offenders was Park Slope's Olive Vine Cafe, which, according to the State Department of Labor, owes its workers some $200,000.
That news came on the heels of news that kitchen workers at Mama Mexico had filed a lawsuit against the Midtown East restaurant for stiffing them in minimum wage and overtime pay, following the lead of their front-of-the-house colleagues who had filed a similar lawsuit against Mama Mexico earlier this year.
On Wednesday, the Manhattan District Attorney's office announced the arrest and indictment of H&H Bagels owner Helmer Toro for stealing withholding taxes and evading unemployment insurance tax. Toro neglected to pay $369,318.77 withheld from his employees' payroll. Whoops.
While not illegal, the behavior of Paradou owner Vadim Ponorovsky was certainly objectionable: Ponorovsky allegedly e-mailed his employees, berating them for, of all things, not collecting enough e-mail addresses from diners: "WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU ASSHOLES?!?!?! How many times do we have to tell you how important it is that you collect emails...YOU SHOULD ALL BE FIRED IMMEDIATELY!!!!! ALL OF YOU, INCLUDING THE HOSTS!!!!"
As operatic as Ponorovsky's missive was, it still lacked the visceral imagery of Neil Ganic's response to a patron who took exception for the allegedly raw lobster Ganic served at La Petite Crevette: According to an e-mail the diner sent to Eater, the chef emerged from the kitchen with a live lobster, which he threw on the table before telling the patrons to get out. While we have some idea of how the workers, diners, and District Attorney felt about the misconduct exposed over the past few days, there's no word yet about the lobster's take on events.