Labor Department Shuts Down Chap’s Grille

Paul Bass PhotoA state Department of Labor crackdown on New Haven food establishments continued with a “stop work” order issued to a Chapel Street restaurant.

The department issued the “stop work” order Monday to Chap’s Grille at 1174 Chapel St. It cited the store for allegedly paying its workers in cash without paying workmen’s compensation insurance, and for allegedly classifying workers falsely as independent contractors.

Chap’s owner Alex Elsankary (pictured) told the Independent Tuesday that he expects to reopen by Thursday morning “at the latest.”

“They’re going around New Haven. They have to make sure everyone’s covered,” Elsankary said. He said he “didn’t know” about the problem until the labor department cited him.

The department didn’t act on a tip. It was dropping in on New Haven businesses along with representatives from the state departments of revenue service and energy and environmental protection, looking for legal violations.

The investigation continues, according to Gary Pechie, the labor department’s director of wage and workplace standards. He said one employee was paid $50 for a day’s work. The department is trying to figure out how many hours he worked.

The labor department has been cracking down on violations of employees’ rights in New Haven. Last week it closed down J & B Deli on the same block of Chapel Street for allegedly failing to pay workers the minimum wage or overtime. The deli reopened Friday. The labor department fined the deli $1,000 for illegally opening for one day after receiving the stop work order, and ordered the deli to pay about $2,000 in back wages, according to Pechie.

Last month the owner of Gourmet Heaven on Broadway was arrested on charges including failure to pay wages, failure to pay overtime, exploitation of immigrant labor and larceny.

During Monday’s visits to local businesses, officials also discovered untaxed cigarettes for sale at Lucky Star Market at 1536 Chapel, according to Department of Revenue Services spokeswoman Sarah Kaufman. She said because the number of cigarettes fell below a 600-cigarette threshold, no one was arrested. Rather, the market was fined $136.

Local businesses should expect more surprise visits.

“We will continue our efforts in New Haven,” Pechie said, “so everybody’s playing by the rules.”

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posted by: Serf of New Haven on April 1, 2014  5:15pm

Connecticut + small business = misery

This is my favorite part -

“We will continue our efforts in New Haven,” Pechie said, “so everybody’s playing by the rules.”

The rules in Connecticut are so complex and incomprehensible that only the well heeled 1% can afford the attorneys and accountants necessary for compliance. And they don’t know the rules but they do know the judges. You will toil for months trying to find out what the rules are. And when you finally think you have the rules figured out they’ll change them on you.

IMO - The CT Department of Labor can care less about someone getting fifty bucks for the day. All theatre. It plays to the emotional response about the plight of the under-payed worker when an under-payed small business owner is getting financially strangled by those same people with too much regulatory burden - taxes, fines, mandatory insurance, and then shutting you down for days.

This is about paying the middlemen with fines, taxes, insurance vigs, and all the rest to keep the boss and his armies paid.

posted by: Seth Poole on April 1, 2014  9:56pm

Alex is a good man.  I ordered from his mediterranean menu and he called me the next day to ask how the food was.  I was pleasantly surprised by his phone call and imagined that if this practice were adopted by more businesses that they could count on much more business.  I hope he reopens soon because the food there is Bangin’!

posted by: Emily G on April 1, 2014  11:18pm

Dear “Serf of New Haven”,

I couldn’t disagree with you more.

Here is link titled “Basic Information for Employers about Connecticut’s Wage and Hour Laws” which I found in exactly 2 seconds doing a google search.

There is also a helpful hotline, and a link to the CT Department of Labor “Opportunity, Guidance and Support” page. Everything I’ve read is written in plain English, no need for a high-powered attorney here.

As for your complaint about the middlemen, taxes, insurance, etc., I think its hardly unreasonable to expect business owners to comply with laws regarding MINIMUM standards of health, safety, and fair labor practice. If a business can’t or chooses not to comply with those standards, they have no right to conduct their business in this city. Economic opportunity should extend to all of us; workers, managers, and business owners alike. The fees you are so upset about are simply the cost of doing business nowadays, you know, since we’ve moved on from serfdom… which I’m unsure if you’re advocating for or against?

I am glad to see the Depart of Labor stepping up their game to enforce this standard. Kudos to Mr. Pechie and his department. I’m certain there are many more businesses in violation of these laws, please keep up your efforts!

posted by: Serf of New Haven on April 2, 2014  4:16pm

Paying the king is what serfs do.

The king is government and his lords are the quasi-government corporations traded daily on the NYSE.

You can voluntarily not pay a ransom to most private enterprises.
But with government you have no choice.

When it’s government and corporation working as a team you must pay them both. Insurance and utilities are quasi-government organizations, Lords, who have higher pricing power because the King allows them to, by codifying into law their protection, so these Lords in turn can run monopolies and collect money from the serfs. The King will tell you, it is because of him your bill has exceeded inflation for the last thirty years straight. That we should be grateful for the tripling of prices over that time, because if it wasn’t for him prices would be even higher and more bad things would happen.
And it gets worse every year.

Listen I voted Democrat and Green for most of the last thirty years, but I’m getting very tired of this ‘government is good’ line.
Every corporation you despise is there solely because government allows them to be, codifies into law the predatory behavior, and bails them out when in trouble.

Connecticut ranks last in small business start ups.
The CT economy has the biggest income disparity in the United States.

Things aren’t going well.

Know who is picking your pocketbook Emily. It’s not Chaps Grille.
The government needs to get back to core functions again and restore the faith of the serfs.

I envy your enthusiasm and youth.
Good luck with your small business.