Former workers at Gramercy Park's shuttered raw vegan restaurant Pure Food and Wine and its affiliated juice bar and mail-order snack operation One Lucky Duck have filed a federal class action lawsuit against the companies and owner Sarma Melngailis, who vanished in early July after three weeks of payroll problems.
The newly unionized workers walked out the first week of July following what they say were first late, then bounced checks, capped off by a payday with no checks at all. The lawsuit demands back wages for the about 60 workers, along with 60 days' pay and $500 per day in penalties for Melngailis's alleged failure to warn of impending mass layoffs, as required by law.
Investors and vendors are also calling. Workers have said that in the final weeks the restaurant was out of ingredients for some of its signature dishes due to unpaid vendor bills, and a state lawsuit filed last month by investor Asparagus Trading Corporation claims the company fronted Melngailis $31,000 for July rent with the understanding she would hand over the business. She didn't, and the company claims she siphoned off money meant to stabilize the restaurant. A judge in that case has ordered Melngailis's bookkeepers to open up their records for inspection. Because Melngailis has not been reachable since July, the ruling allows for her to be served to her by email and snail mail. Melngailis is also facing eviction by her landlord NYC Suite Home, according to court records.
The workers' wage-theft lawsuit is one piece of their larger campaign to recoup the money they say they're owed, have Melngailis fined for federal labor violations, and potentially have her jailed. They are also speaking with investors and hope to reopen Pure Food and Wine under new ownership with stronger employee protections.
Melngailis has not responded to repeated requests for comment by email, Twitter, Facebook, and phone. The voicemail for a phone number workers had used to reach her is now full.