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Ex-Workers Sue Social Media Star Frank Prisinzano, Owner of Popular East Village Italian Restaurants

A new lawsuit brings yet another round of wage theft allegations against the Italian restaurateur

The wall of an East Village Italian restaurant, Lil’ Frankies, is decorated with mirrors and childhood photos.
Inside Lil’ Frankie’s, one of three restaurants owned by Frank Prisinzano in the East Village.
Nick Solares/Eater NY

Three former employees of East Village Italian restaurants Frank Restaurant, Lil’ Frankie’s, and Supper are suing owner Frank Prisinzano over allegations of unpaid overtime wages, missing pay stubs, and other work-related complaints. The suit, filed in the Southern District of New York on April 22, marks the fifth time Prisinzano has been sued over allegations of wage theft since 2009.

Pedro Coyotl, Rene Tigre, and Juan Manuel Trejo claim to have been denied overtime pay over a multi-year period. The three workers have been employed at multiple restaurants owned by Prisinzano since 2012, 2003, and 2018, respectively, and all worked at one of Prisinzano’s restaurants until fall 2021 or early 2022, according to the suit. They say they were denied overtime pay during stretches of that period, despite occasionally working between 40 and 85 hours per week, and were not provided with additional compensation when working shifts longer than 10 hours.

Louis Pechman, an attorney with Pechman Law Group, who’s representing Coyotl, Tigre, and Trejo, estimates that damages in the case could be “well into the six figures.”

Prisinzano, who was not aware of the suit until Eater contacted him for comment, denied that he was in violation of city and state labor laws. “Absolutely can’t be true,” he says. “We pay everybody overtime, every single week, on time...If they were actually not paid by some mistake, we’ll just pay it.”

Under New York labor laws, most employees are entitled to overtime pay at a rate of 1.5 times their usual hourly pay for all hours worked over 40 in a workweek. Many hospitality industry workers who work longer than 10 hours in a single shift are also entitled to what’s called spread-of-hours pay — essentially, an extra hour of compensation at the city or state’s basic minimum hourly rate.

Prisinzano, known for his free-wheeling social media presence, has been sued by former employees on four other occasions — in 2009, 2014, and twice in 2017 — and paid out settlements that total more than $300,000, according to the suit. Following those incidents, he claims his restaurants tightened their documentation of employee wages to avoid future lawsuits and that all of his employees are now provided with wage stubs and other forms of pay documentation.

“I’ve been through this before,” Prisinzano says. “We have controls on everything.”

Prisinzano claims that Coyotl, Tigre, and Trejo were each suspended or fired from his restaurants prior to the lawsuit’s filing. In a text message to Eater, Prisinzano alleged that one of the plaintiffs was suspended from Frank Restaurant after having been caught on camera stealing. The restaurateur claims to have offered to rehire the employee following the suspension but says he never heard back from them.

Pechman denied the accusation.

Prisinzano has been operating in the East Village since 1998, when his eponymous Frank Restaurant opened at 88 Second Avenue, near East Fifth Street. The prolific East Village restaurateur is also behind Lil’ Frankie’s, on nearby First Avenue, and Supper, on East Second Street, which are popular in the neighborhood for their spaghetti al limone and other reasonably priced Italian dishes.

Prisinzano recently opened the doors on Lil’ Frankie’s Grocery, an Italian grocer next door to Lil’ Frankie’s, and plans to open Daddies Pizza, a West Village pizzeria, later this year.