Monday, January 26, 2015

Workers sue two over pay at bars

Thirty-five former workers in Matt and Colleen Swartz's empire seek $100,000 in wages.

The interior and first floor dining room of the Farmers´ Cabinet, with the large beer casks on the wall, in 2011. ( Michael Bryant / Staff Photographer )
The interior and first floor dining room of the Farmers' Cabinet, with the large beer casks on the wall, in 2011. ( Michael Bryant / Staff Photographer )

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

The workers - from 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-an-hour waiters. Most of the debts are fairly recent.

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

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

Yampolsky said by e-mail that he had not heard back from Matt Swartz after initial contact about the issues.

Also named as defendants are Grainery Restaurant Group, the Swartzes' limited liability company; Pete Antipas, who owns the liquor licenses and buildings of Sutton's Parlor and Logan Goat; and onetime Swartz manager Matt Scheller.

None of the defendants replied to messages seeking comment.

The Swartzes' four years on the Philadelphia scene (and several years before that in Emmaus and Bethlehem, Pa.) were marked by 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, sniffed out by state police.

On July 29, their landlord at Farmers' Cabinet, 1111 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 face 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 Hurricane 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 financial interest in at least Sutton's Parlor, which was on 19th Street near Market Street. Antipas was accused of abdicating his responsibility as an owner. Antipas, who also leased Logan Goat, 20th and Arch Streets, to the Swartzes, changed the locks after learning of the state complaint.

Matt Swartz has blamed "unfair press" for his troubles.

Michael Klein PHILLY.COM
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