Breaking News: Pure Food and Wine and One Lucky Duck workers unpaid for over a month and Owner is away!
Pure Food And Wine Employees Walk Out Over Unpaid Wages
[UPDATE BELOW] Upscale raw vegan restaurant Pure Food And Wine is currently embroiled in a massive battle with its employees. According to several tipsters, the entire staff of the Gramercy restaurant has refused to work yesterday and today because they haven’t been paid in nearly a month. Currently, a group of about 10 employees, former employees and customers are picketing the eatery, with more expected to join as the day goes on.
The scene around 3 p.m.
According to one former employee who would only speak on condition of anonymity, much of the staff hadn’t been paid since they were owed checks on December 28th. The back of house staff—which numbers close to 40—threatened to walk out if they weren’t paid by Monday; when the deadline passed, both back and front of house staff walked out and the restaurant closed for the day.
Troubles began in mid-December, when staffers received checks and then were told they wouldn’t be viable. Some staffers were paid through petty cash but others have yet to see wages from that pay period. “In October and November, we started getting lots of calls and people coming in because we hadn’t been paying our bills, even from months and months before,” revealed a former staffer who also wished to remain anonymous. “We hadn’t paid people who were supplying the produce.”
Restaurant ownership have yet to acknowledge the situation and have thus far not replied to requests for comment.
Update: A group of 15 people are currently outside the restaurant and employees have revealed this isn’t the first time payment has been an issue. Back in July, employees were also allegedly denied paychecks, though there was an open line of communication with management and many employees were paid cash under the table. “There hasn’t been any real communication [this time],” says Maiquen Saez, an eight-year server at the eatery. “It’s nothing malicious, we love the restaurant. It’s just sad.”
“We’re just kind of sitting idle,” explains Kevin Connery, a runner for the past 20 months. “[This last pay issue] was really stressful.”
Additional reporting by Rabi Abonour
**Update** July 19th 2017
The Vegan Fugitive, Done In By Domino’s Pizza, Takes A Plea
Kelly Phillips Erb, FORBES STAFF
May 11, 2017 10:07 PM 4,866
In this Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2011 photo, owner, founder and CEO [+]
Sometimes you just want pizza. That turned out to be the rather cheesy mistake made by vegan chef Sarma Melngailis and her now estranged husband, Anthony Strangis, when the pair were on the run last year from law enforcement. While holed up in a small town hotel in Tennessee, Melngailis and Strangis apparently got the munchies. The order led police straight to their hotel room – presumably in 30 minutes or less.
Days later, Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson announced the arrests of Melngailis and Strangis on a 24-count indictment including charges of second-degree grand larceny, second-degree criminal tax fraud, first-degree scheme to defraud, violation of labor law and related counts. This week, Melngailis accepted a plea deal in Brooklyn Supreme Court. She received a split six-month sentence and will serve four months in jail plus five years’ probation for grand larceny, criminal tax fraud, and a scheme to defraud. The defendants had faced up to 15 years in prison if convicted on all charges.
District Attorney Thompson said about the pair at the time, “These defendants are accused of repeatedly stealing from and lying to their loyal employees and to investors who poured money into their company. They allegedly gambled away the money or spent it lavishly while leaving everyone else in the lurch. They were finally caught and we intend to now hold them accountable for this outrageous thievery and fraud.”
The now 44 year old Melngailis had all of the ingredients to be a success. She was an Ivy League grad with a B.A. in Economics from the University of Pennsylvania and a B.S. in Economics from Wharton School. Her resume included stints at Bear Stearns and Bain Capital before she gave all of that up to attend New York’s French Culinary Institute.
In this Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2011 photo, owner, founder and CEO [+]
After graduation, Melngailis opened Pure Food and Wine in June 2004. Pure Food and Wine was New York City’s first upscale raw food restaurant making a number of “best of” lists, including Forbes magazine’s list of “All Star New York Eateries.” She added One Lucky Duck juice bar in 2010 and by 2012 had established a raw food production center and internet sales office in Brooklyn, New York.
Sometime in 2013, she introduced Strangis to the business. She called him “Mr. Fox” in front of the staff, a nod to the pseudonym he used to woo her on Twitter.
It was Strangis, authorities allege, who began spending Melngailis’ money. According to the indictment, from January 2014 to January 2015, Melngailis transferred over $1.6 million from business accounts to her personal bank account. Strangis allegedly spent nearly $1 million of these funds at Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut, over $200,000 at the Mohegan Sun Resort Casino in Connecticut, over $80,000 at specialty watch retailers, including Rolex and Beyer, over $70,000 at hotels in Europe and New York and over $10,000 on Uber car rides. According to authorities, Strangis also withdrew hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash.
Predictably, Melngailis began to fall short of cash. She was unable to pay the restaurant’s 98 employees for nearly five months. During those months, Melngailis and Strangis provided excuses and promises – but no money. When paychecks bounced in January 2015, the staff finally refused to work anymore, and the business closed. Dictor, who represented many of those employees in a lawsuit against Melngailis (Coltelli et al v. Melngailis et al, 1:15-cv-00478-GBD), reportedly referred to her as “the vegan Bernie Madoff.”
When Melngailis decided to reboot the business, she asked for help, and her former patrons obliged. According to the Brooklyn DA’s office, four people paid Melngailis a total of $844,000 as an investment and she reopened her Brooklyn location.
In order to placate her investors, Melngailis told them that she was negotiating a sale of the business to a man named “Michael Caledonia.” According to the indictment, “Michael Caledonia” turned out to be Strangis in disguise.
Behind the scenes, authorities say that Melngailis transferred an additional $400,000 from the business account to her personal account. She reportedly withdrew over $100,000 in cash, transferred over $300,000 to Foxwoods on behalf of Strangis and charged nearly $25,000 in other casinos. The lack of funds in the business accounts resulted in more bounced paychecks – and another lawsuit (Schubmehl et al v. Melngailis et al, 1:15-cv-06432-VEC).
Eventually, the business shut down for good. And not only had Melngailis and her corporations not paid their employees, they had failed to pay the government: the State of New York claimed that Melngailis and her companies failed to turn over more than $400,000 in sales tax.
Melngailis and Strangis weren’t around to answer questions about what happened. By this time, Melngailis, labeled by the media as the “vegan fugitive” was hot footing it together with Strangis away from New York to Louisiana, Vegas, and eventually the cozy interior of a Fairfield Inn in rural Tennessee.
When the pair was caught, they planned to fight the charges. The pair also turned on each other with Melngailis initially claiming that Strangis was to blame for her behavior, with Vanity Fair reporting she intended to use a “gaslight defense.” However, things began to unravel in spring of this year. In March, Strangis pleaded guilty to four counts of grand larceny in the fourth degree. He was sentenced to one year in jail and five years of probation. He must also pay $840,000 in restitution to investors he was charged with swindling.
Prosecutors offered Melngailis a deal last December but she balked at the 1-3 year prison sentence. This month, however, she finally accepted a deal, pleading guilty to grand larceny, criminal tax fraud, and a scheme to defraud. She agreed to a four-month prison sentence plus five years of probation. After nearly two years on a Twitter hiatus, Melngailis recently reappeared on the site where she reportedly met Strangis, tweeting simply, “I don’t want to be silent anymore.”
As for that pizza order? Supposedly, it was Strangis who ordered the pizza – and a side of chicken wings – using his own name. Melngailis allegedly stuck to her roots by ordering vegan bowls from a local Chipotle.
This girl is the dumbest smart girl there is! Was the gambling really worth your life’s work? I’m telling you these restaurants were a gold mine! She was printing her own money! Every time I went there were lines out the door! The small seating at one lucky duck was full and people were in and out for takeout! The food was amazing! The food was gorgeous! It was delicious and extremely overpriced! It was also 100% raw vegan! The mint sundae was to die for! The avocado pudding still haunts my dreams! Luckily, I have a recipe! It’s also on this site!
And she threw it all away!
I’m so sad!