Manhattan’s first location of Carl’s Jr. apparently abruptly shuttered in early June with some issues: The former general manager and three other former employees allege that they still haven’t been paid for their final week of work — and corporate offices at CKE Restaurant Holdings Inc. isn’t doing anything to help.
As the very first Manhattan outpost of the fast-food chain, the franchise had a splashy opening with a big push from corporate, hyped for over a year. The company even put on a 25-minute musical starring the brand’s mascot, Happy Star, to promote the restaurant’s opening, inviting members of the press and members of the public who were chosen by lottery. But less than five months later, franchise owner John Golbari closed the Midtown restaurant at 425 Seventh Ave.
Former employees allege that they have repeatedly reached out to CKE — a company with more than 3,800 restaurants globally and with reported annual sales of $4.4 billion — for help in their disputes with Golbari. But they have either not heard back or been told that there is nothing corporate can do to mitigate the situation. Golbari did not respond to requests for comment.
A spokesperson for CKE writes in a statement to Eater NY: “Although CKE corporate is not responsible for franchisee employee relations issues, we are working with the Manhattan franchise owner to help him remedy this issue as quickly as possible.”
Vanessa Watkins, the former general manager, tells Eater NY that she’s still owed $572 in wages from Golbari, who’s no longer responsive to her. Several other former employees of the shuttered fast-food joint also say they are owed hundreds for their last week of work, similarly claiming that Golbari has stonewalled them. The restaurant owes at least $1,774.50 to these staffers.
Financial issues became more obvious about two weeks before the restaurant closed, Watkins says. Business at the location was slow, Watkins claims, though she alleges it was only because Golbari did little to improve the business. “We’d run out of food, run out of product, and then that looked bad on us,” she says.
The way the restaurant closed happened quickly and mostly by word of mouth — further confusing the staffers, they say. Golbari sent vague text messages, suggesting that it would only be closed “until things are figured out for the future” and telling some people it was closing while telling others it would remain open.
It started on Saturday, June 2, when Golbari called Watkins to say that the restaurant would be temporarily shutting down, she says. When she told former shift leader Elijah Cole, he contacted Golbari directly to clarify. In text messages Cole provided to Eater NY, Golbari assures Cole that everything would be resolved on Sunday; Cole ended up working that Sunday.
But it quickly devolved from there, staffers say. Former shift manager Nora Montesino says she texted Golbari that same Sunday to ask if the store would be open on Monday, and Golbari replied that it would not be open and instructed her to tell all employees not to come — though he implied the closure might be temporary. That same night, Watkins called Cole to tell him that Golbari was firing the entire staff and closing the restaurant, effective immediately. It never reopened.
All four employees say that they have not yet received payment for their final week of work. Jennifer Hernandez, a former cashier, says she is owed $340, and Montesino, who is eight months pregnant, says she is still owed $390. Cole, who says he is still owed $472.50, also repeatedly reached out to Golbari about clothing and shoes that he left behind in a locker at the location, and the franchise owner has yet to tell Cole when he can come in to retrieve his belongings or when he will be paid.
Reaching out to corporate has also been unhelpful, the staffers say. Despite undergoing an intense eight-week paid training program in California, Watkins says her attempts to talk to the company have been fruitless. One man told her that he’s not legally allowed to speak about payroll for a franchisee, according to text messages provided to Eater NY.
Montesino, the former shift manager, also says she contacted corporate to file a complaint, but she has not heard back. Golbari texted her on June 5 to ask why she had filed the complaint, but he has not responded to her texts asking when they will be paid, she says.
Information about franchise obligations, investment, and the corporate-franchisee relationship are also scarce; the “franchise opportunities” part of Carl’s Jr.’s website is currently down. Of all Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s stores, 96 percent are reportedly franchised.
The entire experience has been “really sad,” Watkins says. She did extensive training with the company and often felt unsupported by Golbari, who she says blamed his employees for the store’s struggles. And she says she is not currently in a financial position to pursue a case in small claims court, so she has still been making repeated contact with corporate, thinking they would be able to assist. They have since stopped responding to her, she says, leaving only the corporate hotline as a line of communication.
“They basically said there’s nothing they can do,” Watkins says.