The fallout continues from Castanet’s reporting into unfair business practices at Ric’s Grill in downtown Kelowna and the restaurant’s owners, Sunny and Sal Gupta.
After the initial story was published Thursday morning, over two dozen past and present employees contacted Castanet and spoke out about the same type of working conditions at Ric’s locations throughout BC and Alberta.
Each complainant said they were not paid for extended periods of time, and some were not paid at all. Others told Castanet they were never tipped out, and that unsanitary work conditions or unpaid bills led to the temporary closing of some restaurants.
One of the more heartfelt responses came from Traci Sparling, a 51-year-old bride to be from Calgary. She had spent the past year planning her Kelowna wedding reception at the downtown Ric’s location and even paid $650 for Ric’s Grill gift certificates to be used by some of the guests at the dinner.
Sparling only became aware of the situation when her friend came across the Castanet article and forwarded it to her. She immediately called Castanet to ask if the restaurant was indeed closed, since her reception was set for the evening of July 25.
“Needless to say, yes I’m a stressed out bride, but I’m absolutely livid,” she says.
“I have so many questions: what do we do with these gift certificates? What are we going to do for dinner? Why did nobody contact us?
“We would have shown up next week with all these people and no place to go for dinner.”
The building where Ric’s Grill is located at 210 Lawrence Avenue now features a prominent 'For Lease' sign in its window, and commercial realtor Chris Wills says the sign went up Wednesday afternoon after the property’s landlord decided it was time for a new tenant.
Danielle Schlehahn is just one of many who say they were hired at the downtown location and not paid on time.
“I worked for a month, and after fighting for a late paycheque, it bounced after sitting in my account for a week, resulting in me being short on money to pay bills,” says Schlehahn.
“I also did not receive tip out at all, which is money that I am rightfully owed going right into his pocket. Lastly, I never received a single pay stub whilst I was there.”
Another complainant, Kyle Plitt, says he was a sous chef at Ric’s Grill for over four years before finally quitting earlier this year. He says he is owed over $5,000 and is now having problems with his bank, due to cheques bouncing from Ric’s.
Jory Airey also worked at the downtown location, after being hired as a bartender in April. She says the job seemed great at first, but could never get a straight answer on when the pay period ended.
“Finally I just demanded someone tell me what was going on and I was informed that no one had been paid yet. I was reassured that once summer season picked up, we would all be getting our money, so I held out,” says Airey.
“I worked full time, approx. 40 hours a week, right until mid-June when I quit and filed a complaint with the labour board to get my money. I had not received one paycheque in over two months. I was being evicted from my apartment because I couldn't afford my rent. I had to go to the food bank for groceries, which was absolutely humiliating. But I wasn't alone. Many of my coworkers were and still are in the same situation.
“At first, the tips were enough to keep us afloat, but soon we stopped receiving those. All money paid on debit or credit went directly through the machines into their account. Generally, staff are supposed to receive these tips once a week after they are processed but I have at least $200 owing to me just in tips alone... in wages I am owed thousands of dollars.”
Sal Gupta also owns Mimi’s Italian Grill in Kelowna, and a former employee says she also experienced pay problems at that restaurant.
Amy worked at Mimi’s for about a year, before finally quitting in May. She says she is still owed around $3,000.
“They would try to get (the money) to you every once in a while, but you really had to go up to them and get it,” she says.
"Sorry, it’s coming. They’re just trying to figure some things out and it will be with you in the next day. Or (Sal) would let you know the next day, and then they wouldn’t talk to you.
It would go on for a couple weeks until finally you may be able to get something or you might see a part of the cheque, or something like that. People were starting to get backed up two or three paycheques at a time.”
Amy also says the staff were sometimes given gift certificates in lieu of payment to restaurants under the Ric’s Grill umbrella, like Mimi’s or Shine.
But the troubles are not just at the Kelowna locations - other Ric’s Grills owned and operated by the Gupta’s have been having major financial difficulties.
A number of readers have complained about conditions at the Ric’s Grill in downtown Calgary, Alberta.
Diana Gibson alleges that the Calgary 17 Ave. location was forced to close its doors earlier this week due to an unpaid gas bill. She also says that many of her paycheques have bounced, tips have taken up to two months to be returned, and the restaurants air conditioner has been broken for weeks, leading to customers receiving 50 per cent off their dinners.
Another former employee who did not wish to be named also says the restaurant has been closed due to unpaid bills, and that at least 15 employees have not been paid in over a month.
Castanet was unable to verify the restaurants closure, but multiple phone calls went unanswered.
Attempts to contact both Sunny and Sal Gupta were unsuccessful for this story.
We would again like to remind readers that Ric's Lounge & Grill across from the Kelowna airport is independently owned and operated separately from the the Ric's group and the Guptas. Operations Manager Robert Boeckner says they have been inundated with phone calls asking for clarification.