Two weeks after its second major shutter this year, raw food hot spot Pure Food and Wine is still dark and its former employees are still owed back wages from work earlier this summer. Those employees have banded together to form a union, hired a lawyer to sue their former employer Sarma Melngailis, and are hoping to reopen the restaurant without her. The group also wants Melngailis — who has pretty much gone underground, ignoring her staff and not responding to repeated requests for interviews from media outlets including Eater — in jail. The union's lawyer Benjamin Dictor has already filed a federal labor complaint against Melngailis and is assembling a class action suit, reports Gothamist.
Former employees, most of whom have moved on to other jobs in the meantime, hope to return to Pure Food and Wine, but only if its under new leadership. "There [is] a group of individuals interested in coming in and opening it back up, and interested in the idea that respect for labor is important as well as health and ecological sustainability," Dictor said. So far, 168 employees and supporters have signed a petition asking the landlord to reopen the space under new management.
Melngailis, meanwhile, is facing more than one lawsuit. One of the restaurant's investors, Asparagus Trading Corporation, that signed on earlier this year to help the restaurant reopen in April is suing Melngailis for $280,000 she allegedly took from the restaurant's accounts. A group of investors paid the $31,000 June rent with the understanding that Melngailis would sell her share of the business to investors. But, according to the suit, that didn't happen. It alleges that Melngailis refused to sell and switched the credit card payments from the restaurant's accounts to her personal accounts.
Ex-employees have been picketing every Thursday outside of the restaurant. This week, however, they will host a potluck (vegan, of course) on the sidewalk instead. Dictor and the union, according to Gothamist, hopes to file that class action suit next week.