Calavera, Oakland's upscale Mexican restaurant from veteran restaurateur Chris Pastena, has been slapped with a lawsuit alleging wage theft. Filed by former employees on Friday, April 1, the lawsuit alleges a variety of violations, including failure to pay overtime, pay for meal breaks and failure to pay minimum wage.
The class action lawsuit comes from three former employees of the restaurant, which opened last fall: Flor Crisostomo, Sergio Esquivel and Maribel Hernandez. With the support of a newly formed grassroots organization, the Bay Area Restaurant Workers Movement (BARWM), a planned protest took place at Calavera on Friday, drawing over 100 activists and fellow restaurant workers.
The claims are leveled at owner Chris Pastena, whose other restaurants include Chop Bar and Lungomare, partner/GM Michael Iglesias, former executive chef Christian Irabien, and executive sous chef Adelar Rodgers. Irabien, who is now at Cala in Hayes Valley, was recently replaced by Oakland chef Sophina Uong.
According to Paul Blasenheim, one of the seven founders of the BARWM, the group was emboldened to form their organization and file the lawsuit after recent wage theft and sexual harassment allegations against celebrity chef Michael Chiarello and his restaurant, Coqueta. Mission restaurant Farina is also under fire for alleged labor and wage violations against former employees and the city of San Francisco.
The three former employees are seeking compensation for lost pay and penalties for labor violations. Ultimately, Blasenheim says that the group's hope is that the allegations will be shown to be valid, forcing a public apology from the owner and a commitment that a strategy for a "wage theft-free workplace" will be implemented in the future.
"We are working on a set of demands for the industry as a whole, not just Calavera," said Blasenheim. "Overall we want to see employers and owners as allies in a shared mutual belief that if we all have livable wages it raises the standard of quality and service for all of us."
The restaurant denies the workers' claims, issuing the following statement:
We believe these claims to be completely false. We are a diverse group of employees and owners at Calavera with a history of fair practices and creating a healthy, supportive restaurant culture, and we take pride in being Latino, African-American and female-owned. As longtime Oakland residents and restaurant owners, we have always been 100% committed to supporting our staff and treating every single member of our community fairly. We understand the importance of advocating for fair labor practices and equality, not only in the workplace, but in our communities as well, and the owners at Calavera have a long record of working with the community toward those goals. While we understand the need to bring attention to this important issue, this claim is misguided and untrue.
Stay tuned for more details.