Newly unionized workers at the upscale raw vegan restaurant Pure Food and Wine in Gramercy walked out on Thursday after they say they weren't paid for a second straight week. Now, they say the restaurant has ground to a halt as they remain off the job, the rent is past due, and vendors have stopped making deliveries because they too aren't getting paid.

Bartender Kevin Woods said owner Sarma Melngailis "just disappeared again." This is the third time the staffers say management has missed payroll. Former manager, Billy Gaffney, who had planned to return to work at Pure Food as a server after completing a theater production in Vermont and has been in regular contact with the staff, said during the first stretch, a month last summer, no one went public because they were paid piecemeal out of the restaurant's petty cash. Workers walked out for the first time in January, saying they had not been paid, some for as long as a month. The restaurant closed for months afterward and reopened in the spring with a new manager.

Woods said that he had a one-on-one meeting with Melngailis before agreeing to come back and she assured him that she'd gotten around $1 million in new investment to keep cash-flow problems from happening again. He said he kept a second job just in case. She hired a new general manager to right the ship and was in the restaurant daily until early May, Woods said. Since then, he said he has seen her "maybe one time." On June 25th, he said, paychecks began to bounce, and the staff picketed again.

When payday came around this Thursday, paychecks were nowhere to be found, and Melngailis, communicating only through text-messages with the general manager, threatened to fire everyone if they walked out, Woods said. They did, and the business has yet to reopen. Gaffney left the job in January and said he is still owed $500-$600. Even before that, he said that Melngailis was costing him money because he came on as a manager tasked with helping to turn around the restaurant, but he found himself getting scheduled more and more frequently as a server, making a lower rate. He'd rather not stress about what he's owed, but what's happening to the entire staff is inexcusable, he said.

"It's not a lot of money, but at the same time it's a lot of fucking money," he said. "It's horribly distressing that these checks for people she has attempted to pay aren't even going through."

The workers formed an independent Pure Food Restaurant Workers Union last week, and Woods, its rep, said, "We view [the latest nonpayment] as an act of retaliation." However, he said that he doesn't consider the staff to be on strike because the restaurant doesn't have the ingredients it needs to function. For instance, he said, for three days before it closed, it lacked what it needed to make its famous vegan ice cream sundaes. He emphasized that Pure Food is a great place to work, when everyone gets paid, but said he wants to see it reopen under new ownership. In the short term, he said the staff is willing to return to work immediately if they are paid their back wages, and Melngailis agrees to set up a fire-walled payroll account that she can't access.

The restaurant's ethical boasting, he added, makes the wage theft more egregious.

"The owner is so intent upon animal rights and cruelty-free products and this moral high ground, which we appreciate, but I find it rather ironic that she doesn't support her workers in any way," Woods said. "She's violated so many of our rights at this point that it's laughable. We would laugh if it wasn't so sad."

Melngailis did not immediately respond to inquiries made through Twitter and Facebook, or to a voicemail left at her company's main office. No one answered the phone at Pure Food and Wine. A recent tweet from the attached juice bar and raw vegan sweet shop One Lucky Duck indicated that there had been a disruption in the shop's phone service.