Alessandro Borgognone’s Sushi Nakazawa — the only Japanese restaurant to hold four stars by the New York Times, and perennially one of the toughest reservations in town — has become the latest culinary establishment to be hit with a wage lawsuit accusing it of shortchanging employees on pay.
The suit was brought by noted plaintiffs’ attorney Maimon Kirschenbaum on behalf of two former wait captains, one who worked there from December 2015 to December 2017 and another who worked there from June 2014 to August 2016.
According to the complaint, the 23 Commerce Street restaurant failed to give the captains “appropriate notice” that they would earn the tipped minimum wage — an administrative technicality that’s been driving recent wage suits — rather than the higher full minimum. The tipped minimum is what most waiters in New York make.
But the formal complaint argues that Nakazawa was also ineligible to pay the tipped wage because staffers were required to share gratuities with ineligible staffers, including a beverage director, a maitre’d, a silver polisher, and two sommeliers.
Close followers of restaurant labor law will note that it’s not uncommon for sommeliers to partake of tips. But Kirschenbaum states that in the case of Nakazawa, the “managerial authority” of those wine professionals — hiring individuals, running staff meetings, writing service manuals — rendered them ineligible.
These claims are not atypical for modern wage suits. However, the complaint also offers a somewhat unexpected tidbit: Borgognone, the document alleges, held a staff meeting last week announcing a new tip pool structure, as well as a new mandatory arbitration policy for employees who wish to remain working at the restaurant. Arbitration agreements typically involve promising to pursue legal claims against an employer through an arbitrator — a private citizen — rather than though the courts.
Kirschenbaum is seeking unpaid wages, damages, interest, as well attorneys’ fees as part of the suit. Borgognone did not immediately respond to an Eater email inquiry on the wage suit, or the arbitration claims.
Sushi Nakazawa opened in 2013 and quickly rose to become one of the city’s most lauded upscale sushi restaurants. Its chef Daisuke Nakazawa is best known as the former Jiro Ono apprentice, from the famed Jiro Dreams of Sushi documentary.