Sunday, April 19, 2015

35 ex-workers sue Farmers' Cabinet owners

Thirty-five former employees of Matt and Colleen Swartz's crumbled bar empire have gone to Common Pleas Court to seek a total of about $100,000 in wages.

35 ex-workers sue Farmers' Cabinet owners

The Farmers´ Cabinet, formerly at 1111-13 Walnut St.
The Farmers' Cabinet, formerly at 1111-13 Walnut St. MICHAEL KLEIN / Philly.com

Thirty-five former employees of Matt and Colleen Swartz's crumbled bar empire have gone to Common Pleas Court to seek a total of about $100,000 in wages.

The aggrieved workers - from the Farmers' Cabinet, Logan Goat and Sutton's Parlor - are the cogs that make any restaurant go: managers, cooks, prep staff, bartenders, a musician, an event planner, and $2.83-a-hour waiters. Most of the debts are fairly recent.

In the complaint - filed Tuesday by Henry Yampolsky of Galfand Berger in conjunction with the Restaurant Opportunities Center of Philadelphia, a worker-advocacy group - the former employees say they are owed anywhere from a few hundred dollars to in excess of $10,000 in tips, straight pay and overtime.

They say they were given false promises but worked up until the days the restaurants closed this summer.

Yampolsky said by email that he had not heard back from Matt Swartz after initial contact with him about the issues.

Also named as defendants in the suit are Grainery Restaurant Group, the Swartzes' LLC; Pete Antipas, who owns Sutton's Parlor's and Logan Goat's liquor licenses and buildings; and onetime Swartz manager Matt Scheller. (It was reported in late 2012 that Scheller had left the business.)

"While we realize that collectability may be an issue, we intend to fiercely advocate for our clients, seeking all possible avenues of recovery of unpaid wages due and owing them," Yampolsky said. "Of course, the workers would have no chance of collecting without the filing of this lawsuit."

None of the defendants replied to messages seeking comment.

This is another lawsuit on the pile for the Swartzes, whose four years on the Philadelphia scene (and several years before that, in Emmaus and Bethlehem) were marked by almost comedic drama, including a middle-of-the-night closing, a bullying incident at a beer distributor that was caught on camera, and the alteration of a bar's liquor license's expiration date - a bit of cozenage sniffed out by state police.

On July 29, their landlord at the Farmers' Cabinet at 1111-13 Walnut St. won a default judgment of about $1.3 million in back, current and future rent plus unpaid bills. The Swartzes never showed up in court.

The couple also faces a lawsuit in Ocean County, N.J.,  filed by a woman who alleges that Matt Swartz leased her Jersey shore deli, collected on an insurance claim surrounding Superstorm Sandy, and left the place a shambles.

In June, state investigators alleged that Matt Swartz - whose name does not appear on the liquor licenses - had a pecuniary interest in at least Sutton's Parlor, on 19th Street near Market. Antipas was accused of abdicating his responsibility as an owner. Antipas, who also leased Logan Goat at 20th and Arch Streets to the Swartzes, changed the locks after learning of the state complaint.

In phone conversations, Matt Swartz has blamed "unfair press" for his troubles.

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About this blog
Michael Klein, the editor/producer of philly.com/Food, writes about the local restaurant scene in his Inquirer column "Table Talk." Have a question? Email it! See his Inquirer work here.

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