By Joe Maniscalco
January 15, 2015
New York, NY – A tony restaurant owner who hasn’t paid her staff since December is about to experience some instant Karma – workers at Pure Food and Wine and One Lucky Duck say they will join together in a class action lawsuit against Sarma Melngailis if their outstanding wages are not paid in full this Friday.
The workers, over 70 in all, staged a walkout this week forcing the closure of Pure Food and Wine at 54 Irving Place. Affiliated workers at Melngailis’ other Lucky Duck operations in Manhattan and Brooklyn also took part in the job action.
“Everyone is fed up and mobilized, line cook Allie Coltelli told LaborPress on Wednesday. “Someone has to be held accountable. They screwed up a lot of people’s lives.”
Coltelli and her co-workers say the last paychecks they received back on December 26, bounced higher than a pink Spalding, without any explanation from Melngailis.
“The boss is a complete ghost,” Coltelli said. “No one has heard anything from her. We’re all on the brink. None of us has any money.”
Chef Kevin Kalb said that he and a couple of managers did receive an e-mail from the restaurant owner on Tuesday vaguely alluding to some trouble recently “switching banks.”
But this is not the first time Pure Food and Wine and Lucky Duck staffers have been stiffed and expected to keep right on working. Employees protesting outside the Irving Place establishment on Wednesday said that they experienced the same thing this past July.
The total amount of withheld wages could easily run into six figures, and also includes tips that workers earned.
A limited number of Melngailis' employees were reportedly successfully able to cash their late-December paychecks, but resolved to walkout with their co-workers in a show of solidarity.
Melngailis could not be reached for comment.
“This is totally unacceptable,” attorney Benjamin Dictor told LaborPress. “It’s the bottom of the barrel. You are charging incredible amounts of money, you have celebrity clientele -and the people who are making the food and serving the food, and cleaning the restaurant, are not getting paid at all. Slavery was abolished in this country a long time ago. I don’t know how people think they can get away with this today.”
None of the workers LaborPress spoke to outside Pure Food and Wine on Wednesday said they actually expect to be paid on Friday.
If they aren’t paid what they’re already owed, Dictor vowed to file suit in federal court on Tuesday morning immediately following Dr. Martin Luther King Day.