Talula's Garden agrees to pay 63 restaurant workers $396K in back wages, damages

The owners of Talula's Garden on Washington Square have agreed to pay back wages to its employees.

Talula’s Garden, the noted restaurant in Philadelphia’s Washington Square neighborhood, has agreed to pay 63 workers back wages totaling $197,917, plus an equal amount in damages, “to resolve alleged federal wage violations, including requiring employees to work unpaid hours,” the U.S. Department of Labor’s local Wage and Hour Division said in a statement Monday.

“The workers at Talula’s Garden did not receive the required minimum wage and overtime pay,” receiving less than the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour, James Cain, who heads the Philadelphia wage and hour office, said in a statement. The government said Talula’s Garden “violated the overtime, minimum wage, and record-keeping provisions” of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

The restaurant charges more than $70 for a typical three-course dinner, not counting vegetables or drinks. Staff at the restaurant had no immediate comment and referred questions to a spokesman, who was not immediately available.

Talula’s Garden, formally Washington Square Restaurant Partners LP, opened in 2011 as a partnership between Aimee Olexy — who earlier cofounded the former Django in Society Hill and Talula’s Table in Kennett Square — and Stephen Starr — whose Starr Restaurants owns Continental Restaurant + Martini Bar, Buddakan, Pod, Frankford Hall, and 16 other Philadelphia restaurants, plus more in New Jersey, New York and Florida.

Investigators found that “line cooks did prep work off-the-clock before the start of their shifts, resulting in unpaid overtime work,” the Labor Department said in a statement. “Servers and bartenders also worked — off-the-clock and without pay — to prepare food, the restaurant, and their individual work stations, resulting in minimum wage and overtime violations. The Division also found the restaurant failed to maintain accurate records of work hours for bartenders, servers, and line cooks.”

The government pushed for the judgment to ensure that “employers in this industry operate on a level playing field,” added Oscar L. Hampton III, the labor department’s Regional Solicitor.

The labor department says it can provide information about the wage law to both workers and employers at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243) and online at http://www.dol.gov/whd/.