Nashville, Tenn., restaurateur and celebrity chef Maneet Chauhan said last week that she was closing her Indian street food restaurant Chaatable to seek a new location. But workers reportedly blamed the move on an attempt to crush a labor organizing effort there.
Chauhan is known for her appearances on Food Network’s “Chopped” and her Morph Hospitality Group in Nashville also operates The Mockingbird, Chauhan Ale & Masala House and Tansuo concepts.
The company said Chaatable, however, has struggled since the pandemic, operating at a loss for many months. The restaurant opened in 2018.
“The fact is that Chaatable closed because it was not a sustainable business after Covid,” the company said in a statement. “It didn’t close because of organizing efforts. Friday’s closing time was the result of an email from our landlord agreeing to the necessary lease assignment, after a long period of ongoing discussions.
Some workers have been transferred to other restaurants in the group, but the company said less than a dozen employees have been laid off – with a $500 severance package – at a time for those who showed up for the Friday night shift and for those who were “not on call”. , no show.
The workers, however, told the Nashville scene they planned to hit on Friday night to demand better wages and working conditions. They said they learned of the closure from a handwritten note on the restaurant’s door.
When they learned that the workers had been made redundant, the employees and representatives of the Workers’ Dignity union group went to the other restaurants of Morph Hospitality to organize a demonstration.
Paige McCay, who said she worked for Chaatable for about three years except for a time during the pandemic, was among those protesters who believe union activity hastened the shutdown.
In an interview with Restaurant Business, McCay said a group of workers sent an anonymous email — because they were afraid of retaliation — asking for the timing of the restaurant’s closure, so workers could prepare. McCay also said workers plan to tell management that a majority of workers have signed cards to begin the process of forming a union, although no petitions have been filed and the e- mail does not specifically mention trade union activity.
But McCay believes the company learned Thursday that the potential union was looming. “On Friday, after telling us they hadn’t sold yet, all of a sudden they were done,” McCay said.
Now the group is asking for two weeks of layoffs for those laid off, as well as job opportunities at other restaurants in the group, protection from retaliation for still-working employees who support the movement, and an “open and honest” with restaurant officials, said McCay, who as of Tuesday had not yet received any severance pay.
“We will continue to ask to be treated with dignity and respect by a company that we respect and for which we have given a lot of time and earned money,” she said.
Morph Hospitality, however, said the company was unaware workers were planning to organize.
“It saddens us that a small minority of Chaatable workers are making multiple false claims,” the company said in the statement. “Most of them are the same employees who were a ‘no call, no show’ for work last Friday when we shared the news in person with staff.”
The company also said some Chaatable employees who took issue with the allegations now face bullying online.
“We hope sharing the facts will end the harassment,” the company said.
The labor movement is on the rise in the restaurant industry, and Starbucks and Chipotle Mexican Grill have been accused of closing restaurants to stifle workers’ efforts to organize, although both chains have blamed the unit closings for other reasons, claiming that the union organization had nothing to do. do with the decisions.
Earlier this year, Starbucks announced it would permanently close 16 locations, including several where labor unions were forming, due to safety concerns. More than 200 Starbucks units across the country have voted to form a union.
Chipotle, meanwhile, closed a restaurant in Augusta, Maine, which was the first to file a petition with the National Labor Relations Board for a union vote. The chain said at the time that the store was closed due to ongoing staffing issues.
Chauhan, meanwhile, in an Instagram post said a private dining room in one of the other restaurants will be used to host Chaatable pop-up events. The company hopes to find a new home for the concept.
In the post, she also notes that all businesses in the group have suffered, with three restaurants surrounded by construction, limiting customer access.
“We have worked so hard to bring diverse ethnic cuisine to the Nashville market and have always supported local restaurants and hospitality workers,” Morph Hospitality said in the release. “We would never close a restaurant we love if it wasn’t a necessary business decision.”
UPDATE: This story has been updated with new information from a worker.
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