Celebrity chef José Andrés is accused of underpaying his staff at his Hudson Yards Spanish food market Mercado Little Spain.
A bartender filed a lawsuit against the chef and the food hall, claiming she was paid an hourly rate that’s below minimum wage — and now she’s trying to recuperate all the money she and other employees are allegedly owed.
Tina Braunstein began working at the food hall in April, generally working 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. shifts that included at least two hours of sidework, such as setting up the bar and polishing silverware, according to the lawsuit. Yet she claims she was paid a wage based on her collection of tips, even though the required sidework wasn’t tipped work.
Mercado Little Spain denies the allegations, according to a spokesperson. “We firmly believe that we have properly paid all of our employees and will vigorously defend any claims to the contrary,” the company says in a statement sent to Eater.
Braunstein also claims that the food hall paid her below overtime standards — in April, she claims she was paid $15.55 per hour when she worked past her regular shift, which the lawsuit states is below the legal minimum rate of $17.50. Plus, when her shifts lasted more than 10 hours, she claims she was paid $10 rather than the $15 mandated by New York law, according to the suit.
The bartender has filed the lawsuit on behalf of her coworkers, too; she claims Mercado Little Spain “systematically” underpaid all of its service employees. Prolific restaurant lawyer Maimon Kirschenbaum is representing her.
Wage lawsuits are prevalent in New York’s restaurant industry, with restaurants sometimes forced to pay extremely high sums, such as the $5.5 million Locanda Verde’s owner recently shelled out. Other high payouts include a 2017 one at Dan Barber’s celebrated Blue Hill for $2 million, a $5 million payout from Mario Batali’s former restaurant Babbo in 2012, and $1.4 million at Daniel Boulud’s restaurants in 2015.
But the new suit spells more legal trouble for Mercado Little Spain, which was also recently sued by a former pastry chef claiming she was fired because she was a woman.
Aside from the legal troubles, the market has been well received by the dining community in New York. It’s brought some of the best restaurant options to the massive Hudson Yards shopping mall, and both Eater critics Robert Sietsema and Ryan Sutton have praised the market’s Spanish fare.