Gourmet Heaven Faces Fines For Not Paying Workers

Brianne Bowen PhotoA popular downtown market may face tens of thousands of dollars in fines after the state found a host of labor violations there, including paying workers less than the minimum wage.

The state issued a stop-work order Wednesday to both locations of Gourmet Heaven, 15 Broadway and 44 Whitney Ave., for misclassifying workers as independent contractors, failing to maintain payroll records, and failing to pay employees minimum wage or for overtime, among other violations.

The order came in response to a complaint filed Monday by a former Gourmet Heaven employee, according to Nancy Steffens, the communications director for the state Department of Labor. The market has been a repeat target of law enforcement over the last year: In November, store owner Chung Cho agreed to pay a $5,891 fine after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement determined the store had hired workers without proper documents.

The restaurant closed for several hours after lunch Wednesday before the state granted a conditional release and allowed the market to reopen. The release was granted once an attorney for Gourmet Heaven contacted the Department of Labor and notified the state that the business was in the process of collecting the paperwork needed to come into compliance, Steffens said.

“They’ve shown that they’re making a diligent effort to come into compliance,” Steffens said, “and wherever possible, we want to keep companies up and running. ... We don’t want to see anybody going out of business.”

Gourmet Heaven needs to provide time sheets, proof of unemployment compensation and worker’s compensation, and payroll records showing the number of hours worked by each employee and that proper compensation was received.

A Wednesday evening visit to the Gourmet Heaven on Broadway found the store open, with a stop-work order posted in the window. Staff at the market declined to comment and referred questions to the owner, who didn’t respond by press time to a request for comment.

The state found that 15 people working the market’s first shift were treated as independent contractors rather than employees. A business is not required to provide unemployment insurance or worker’s compensation for independent contractors, Steffens said.

“It’s not fair to employers that are abiding by the law,” Steffens said. “Number one, we want to protect the workers. Number two, we want to make sure they’re paying their fair share.”

“Although we are still in the process of this investigation, fines could be in the tens of thousands of dollars, based on the fact that it is a $300 fine alone for each week an employee is working while not on the payroll,” said Gary Pechie, director of the Wage and Workplace Standards Division of the Department of Labor, in a release. “Almost every violation that was possible for us to find, we found, and this is unfortunate for the workers who were not paid fairly for the hours that they worked.”

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posted by: Curious on August 7, 2013  8:19pm

This place charges you through the nose, how the heck can they can not afford to pay minimum operating costs?

posted by: RCguy on August 7, 2013  8:48pm

Gourmet Heaven comes in handy on occasion, but this is no surprise.

My opinion is that any place the marks prices SO far up has to have something to hide.

posted by: DingDong on August 7, 2013  8:50pm

Why does the notice say “Hamden, CT?”

posted by: BillyR on August 7, 2013  9:17pm

Ever rent space from Yale? I totally understand how he can’t afford it!

posted by: Mark Oppenheimer on August 7, 2013  9:52pm

Years ago, when they opened, they used to regularly charge sales tax for groceries that were supposed to be tax-free. When I complained to management, some guy said, basically, that he didn’t care and I couldn’t do anything about it. I figured they always just pocketed the extra “tax” revenue.

posted by: unionsteward35 on August 7, 2013  9:57pm

thats good for them..maybe they will lower their dam prices

posted by: Honest in New Haven on August 7, 2013  9:59pm

The guy is taking advantage of his workers.  I see who works there—largely Hispanics—so he probably thinks he can take advantage of them and no one will complain.  This is obscene and he should be held accountable.  Isn’t this the third or 4th time he has gotten into trouble for wage theft and similar stuff?

posted by: anonymous on August 7, 2013  10:02pm

Guys, do you know what it actually takes to run a small business like this?  It seems that the people complaining about the prices here aren’t the same people who spend 80 hours per week running convenience stores in high-rent districts like this. 

That said, they really need to be treating their workers fairly, even if it requires a further increase in prices.  Worker exploitation, combined with powerful politicians looking the other way, explains why slumlords like Renaissance Management and Apple Management get away with what they get away with.  All of these issues are related to one another.

posted by: TheMadcap on August 7, 2013  10:43pm

I’m here to say what Curious said, they’re expensive as heck, how do they not pay their employees.

posted by: habitue on August 8, 2013  12:47am

Bravo to CT DOL!!!: Its been quite a while since we have read about DOL’s enforcement actions so it is a pleasure to see that our tax are being used for intended purposes. Thank you!

posted by: Nashstreeter on August 8, 2013  1:07am

Hmm…  Just wondering if this is Yale’s idea of a good retail tenant to have in the area around the campus.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on August 8, 2013  4:06am

Where are the loud mouth union haters on this.This is why you need a union.

posted by: Steven Deedon on August 8, 2013  7:42am

I know a guy who worked there for $3.49/hr.  He and other regulars worked 12 hour shifts, min. 60 hours a week.

posted by: LadyERT on August 8, 2013  8:27am

This by far HAS to be one of the most high priced “deli” to visit. I feel they take advantage of being located in the heart of Yaleville and gouge prices.

posted by: anonymous on August 8, 2013  12:52pm

3/5: Of course they should unionize. I don’t think there are any “union haters” who post here, but there are certainly many residents who question the local operations of groups like Unite Here, a group controlled by suburban residents which has decided to take over our city’s DTC instead of advocating for what is best for workers.

In addition to allowing food workers to organize, the ratio of chief executive pay to that of the work force should be prominently posted at the entrance of every establishment. 

What would it be at the Walgreen’s down the street?

posted by: Steven Deedon on August 8, 2013  1:30pm

Looked in on my way up Broadway a bit ago.  Amazing that they’re allowed to be open.  They’ve been busted twice before this. The illegal hourly pay, no overtime, etc. has been going on for MANY YEARS. The property owner, Yale, must be involved.

Au Bon Pain, just doors away, was pushed out by Yale recently, with at least a year left on their contract.  Very nice people, let you fill your water bottle at the ice/soda machine, coffee with a travel mug was $1.27, and you could work on your laptop for several hours, no problem. They even added lots of outlets to plug in laptops or cellphones.  For most of their tenure, the bathrooms were open to anyone who needed them (GM’s are locked). Employees got four days’ notice and were told not to tell anybody they were closing.  There has been no explanation from Yale, ABP or their holding corporation, The Compass Group.  Another downtown retailer with a lease from Yale told me that Yale can throw him out for no reason whatsoever on a year’s notice.  Apparently, in the case of Gourmet Heaven, Bruce Alexander or his cronies at Yale apparently want to keep Gourmet Heaven, no matter than they’ll pay illegal immigrant workers as little as half the minimum wage and demand that they work 12 hour shifts and 60 hours a week overtime.

posted by: BillyR on August 8, 2013  9:59pm

Unionized convenience stores…..lol

posted by: BillyR on August 8, 2013  10:02pm

I guess they have a couple options…..raise their prices, or get rid of some employees!

posted by: Nashstreeter on August 8, 2013  10:18pm

BillyR, they have a couple more options. 1. Obey the freaking law, and 2. Take less profit. And even another option: 3. Respect their workers.

I still want to know what options their landlord has…

posted by: Eddie on August 10, 2013  1:15pm


My first instinct from reading this story was to condemn the violations and hope that the employees get compensated.  My first instinct is also to admire Nancy Steffens, whose courage to file a complaint brought these violations to light.  I think this is the reaction of most. 

Yet your first instinct is to empathize with the business and then somehow blame the violations on Harp.  In the next comment you use the context of this article to blame Unite Here.  This is absolutely absurd. 

Although you write pages about unions, you clearly have very little understanding of how workers organize and win power.  It is easy to suggest ideas from the comfort of your computer.  But this doesn’t change power imbalances in the workplace. 

Every single organizer that works for Unite Here fights the violations of workers’ rights on a daily basis. Rank and file members continually work to ensure their contracts are respected.  These individuals protect their rights in spite of considerable intimidation and legitimate fear that are ongoing in the workplace.  For example, working mothers risk their jobs by taking on leadership roles in recognition drives.  They wear union buttons knowing that managers will then search for an excuse to fire them.  This courage, the courage to face down fear, stand up and fight for better working conditions is something that consistently leaves me in awe.  This hard-won courage of Unite Here’s membership is its primary source of strength.  You can try to trivialize these struggles by painting unionism as only living a comfortable suburban life.  You can try to diminish the fortitude that is required to win security that others take for granted.  Just realize that this is the essence of anti-unionism.  It is also exceedingly unfair to those who have less economic security than you and still take risks for themselves, their families, communities, and co-workers.

posted by: Nashstreeter on August 11, 2013  10:29pm

Bravo Eddie! Whose comment are you responding to??