On Thursday, November 21, employees who arrived for work at the Middle Eastern hotspot Noosh found its doors locked. Co-owner John Litz was there to explain the unusual situation, saying that he was suing the spot’s high-profile chefs, Laura and Sayat Ozyilmaz, alleging misappropriation of funds and breach of contract. Initially, the restaurant planned to reopen quickly — by Saturday, after just a two-day transition period. As of today, however, the restaurant remains shuttered, and employees who were scheduled to work this week have received conflicting information on the compensation they can expect during the closure.
The Saturday re-opening was initially touted to occur under a new culinary advisor: pastry chef, cookbook author, and TV personality Emily Luchetti. But on Friday morning, the sidewalk in front of the restaurant was the scene of a rally-slash-media-address from the Ozyilmazes, who told the assembled members of the Noosh team and media that they were innocent of the allegations against them (the lawsuit can be viewed below).
”None of it is true — all of the accusations. I haven’t even had time to read all of them because they are ridiculous.” Laura told ABC 7. Current Noosh staffers who have contacted Eater SF also had words of support for the Ozyilmazes, though most declined to speak on the record for fear of losing their jobs.
A spokesperson for Litz said last week that other than the chefs, all workers from both the kitchen and dining room “remain employees of Noosh,” and that the “team hopes to retain” the full staff. But employees say that since then, some workers have gotten the impression that they didn’t have jobs anymore, and others allege that as the closure has stretched on, scheduled staffers are no longer being paid.
Alican Boynak, who began at Noosh as a cook and now works as a barback and runner, tells Eater SF that employees have learned they won’t be paid for their scheduled hours after Saturday. Sam Singer, a spokesperson for the Litz camp, confirms that payments to staff have ceased. “Noosh staff has been paid for Thursday, Friday, plus Saturday,” Singer tells Eater SF. “However, the terminated chefs have encouraged Noosh staff not to show up to work. When the staff all return we will be able to pay everyone again.”
In an email sent Tuesday to Eater SF, Singer amended those remarks, saying now that “Noosh staff will be paid through Wednesday this week.”
The claim that the Ozyilmazes encouraged employees not to report for duty is one that Boynak disputes. “Laura and Sayat never told us not to go to work, that is bullshit,” Boynak says. “They told us that we all should do what we need to do. They never told us to quit.” In fact, Boynak says, he was scheduled to work on Saturday, and he arrived for his shift at 10 a.m., but was told that the restaurant was still closed, and was barred from entry.
“I have not quit my job,” he says, “and I am not quitting. Some of the people have quit, but we [referring to his wife, Yağmur, who is a sous chef at Noosh] want to still work at Noosh. But we can’t wait to see if we will maybe be paid.”
The Ozyilmazes also dispute this claim, saying in a text sent to Eater SF following this article’s publication that “we have not encouraged any employee of Noosh not to return to work.”
In an overnight pivot, however, some employees were told, directly, that they would be paid throughout the closure, after all. In an email sent to Eater SF the morning on November 16, Singer says that Litz messaged Noosh’s staff Monday night, saying that “Noosh is now getting through our management transition,” and that “the right thing to do is PAY EVERYONE WHO WAS SCHEDULED FOR THE PAST WEEK!”
The dispute over who-might-have-told-whom not to go to work isn’t the only dispute between Litz and his ousted rising stars. According to Singer, the Ozyilmazes have retained control of Noosh’s social media accounts, and the restaurant’s recent Instagram activity seems to verify that allegation: A post published Thursday that reiterated the Ozyilmazes’ claims of innocence has received 557 likes (as of 5 p.m. on Monday) and numerous messages of support.
Another, published Saturday, simply reads, “Laura and Sayat were again denied entrance to their business when they returned to their restaurant today,” and includes a video statement in which the pair again dispute the allegations against them. A second video shows the pair attempting to enter the restaurant, ostensibly to work. According to Singer, “Noosh’s attorneys have contacted the ex-employee chefs and their legal counsel and demanded they stop using the property of Noosh, including its digital assets.”
Meanwhile, Singer says that Noosh will soon reopen, and that even despite the ongoing controversy, “Emily Luchetti is excited about her new role at Noosh.” According to the memo Litz sent Monday night, “If we have enough staff FRIDAY, we will be open for lunch and dinner service or perhaps just one service, depending on how many team members show up...As I am sure you understand, a restaurant can’t open if it does not have proper staffing. Therefore it is impossible to open you don’t come to work FRIDAY.”
Update: November 26, 2019, 9:59 a.m.: This article was updated to reflect a message sent to Noosh staff Monday evening as well as updated comments from Noosh spokesperson Sam Singer