Employees, owner address lack of staff payment at two Kingston restaurants

Whiskey & Rosé and Hey Darlin’ diner are located within the historic Queen’s Inn on Brock Street in downtown Kingston. Photo by Daniel Tastard-Homer/Kingstonist.

From receiving cheques that bounced, being paid late, or not being paid at all, to being berated publicly and yelled at while working, former and current employees are detailing the plight they’ve allegedly faced working at two restaurants in downtown Kingston.

The two restaurants, Hey Darlin’ and Whiskey & Rosé (both located within the Queen’s Inn on Brock Street), are co-owned by Amanda Finkle and Sarah Roth, with Finkle at the helm directing the kitchen and menus. The employees Kingstonist spoke with all said they dealt with Finkle most of the time. The employees say Finkle not only failed to pay them in a timely manner (or at all), but that she changed the way employees were paid on multiple occasions, did not pay out tips, and created an atmosphere in the restaurants that led to multiple employees leaving.

“Some days are hell,” declared one former employee, who also detailed multiple instances of her fellow employees being yelled at and degraded in front of customers. “And it was very hard to walk through the door.”

That employee, like many others, said they needed to remain anonymous; while Kingston is a hotbed of restaurants, the local restaurant industry is small and connected in many ways, and those who do or did work at Finkle’s establishment fear losing or being unable to gain employment if they go public with their stories. More than one current or former employee mentioned fear of retribution from Finkle herself.

Such was the case for one Reddit user, who publicly posted about their experiences as an employee of the restaurants. The post received a number of responses from people who confirmed the allegations of the poster: that the owner owed money to multiple employees and contractors, failed to pay out tips, and used multiple, changing methods to pay staff; and that some employees had attempted to involve the Ministry of Labour and/or the Ontario Labour Relations Board.

In the 24 hours following that post going public, Kingstonist has spoken with six current or former employees at Hey Darlin’ and/or Whiskey & Rosé who agree with the allegations posted on Reddit.

One former employee said they had also designed “multiple menus” for both restaurants. While that employee’s first invoice for the menu design work was paid, the subsequent invoice was not.

“I am planning on emailing her one last time today, but after seeing how many people she’s done this to, I doubt I’ll get a response,” that employee said in an email to Kingstonist, noting that they confirmed the things alleged in the Reddit post had actually happened.

Another employee worked as a bartender over the summer and “was not paid a single dollar for the brief time I spent there from August 14 to 30.” That employee said they filed a claim with the Ministry of Labour in September, but have still not been assigned a case worker.

“During hard times like these, it’s absolutely despicable what the owner Amanda Finkle is doing,” that employee said, noting that they want to remain anonymous for fear of retribution from the owner.

A current employee at Whiskey & Rosé, also wanting to remain anonymous, said they too felt the need to come forward.

“I think the patrons deserve to know where the money they spend and the tips they leave for the staff are actually going,” that employee said.

That current employee also said they have been paid late “every single time” since they started working at the restaurant in August. They also supported allegations made by the other employees, such as receiving payment multiple ways, having cheques bounce, and coping with a generally unorganized and unfriendly working environment.

“We have had our tips withheld from us for five to seven weeks, and kitchen staff haven’t gotten their tip outs since September,” they continued, noting that there are at least a handful of former employees still owed anywhere from $200 to $2,000 each.

“I’ve tried dealing with this civilly and, on behalf of my coworkers past and present, I can’t let her keep getting away with this with no backlash and continuing to carry on with business,” the employee said.

Yet another employee recalled seeing a coworker in tears after being told they were worthless or useless (they couldn’t remember which). That employee noted, “It’s even easier to feel that way when you’re being told you’re worthless at the same time as not being paid.”

On top of everything, what made the swelling number of employees feeling the need to go public even more shocking was the fact that both restaurants suddenly closed on Thursday, Nov. 9, 2023. According to one employee, they don’t know if or when the restaurants will open again.

A sign at the entrance to Whiskey & Rosé and Hey Darlin’ restaurants on Thursday, Nov. 9, 2023, stated “We are closed for the evening. Sorry for any inconvenience!” Submitted photo.

“This whole ordeal has caused a lot of pain and suffering for a lot of people,” said yet another employee, who will also remain anonymous.

In total, at least four of the current or former employees Kingstonist spoke with indicated they are currently owed more than $1,000 from their employer, not including the tips they never received at the end of their shifts. One employee stated that “every single” past or present employee they have worked with at the restaurants — at least 20 people — has experienced issues around being paid. That employee, who also discussed the environment being “unorganized, chaotic, tense,” and like everyone is “always waiting for the other shoe to drop,” said they are owed between $1,300 and $1,500.

The owner responds

Kingstonist reached out to both restaurants on Thursday, Nov. 9, 2023, in an attempt to speak with Finkle. Finkle responded late on Thursday and agreed to speak with Kingstonist today, Friday, Nov. 10, 2023.

Reached by phone, Finkle was immediately forthcoming and candid.

“I’m fairly transparent with everyone and, you know, as a new business in the hospitality industry… it’s tough, you know, many new businesses have challenges in starting up,” she said in response to being asked if employees have experienced missed pay, late pay, and/or bounced cheques.

Finkle noted that Hey Darlin’, a retro diner-style eatery, has only been open since April 2023. Whiskey & Rosé has been open for approximately a year and a half.

“Our payroll hasn’t always been on time. And I take full accountability and responsibility for that. I openly communicate with the team about timing for pay and tips as best as possible when it isn’t on time. Because I believe that transparency is critical, especially when things aren’t going as planned — it creates… a sense of unrest,” Finkle continued.

“And I understand the stress that this causes for my staff and my team, and we work to try and resolve the issues as quickly as possible. You know, I don’t take those things lightly. It’s very troubling to me when I can’t pay people on time.”

Finkle said that her restaurants had a slow summer, as well as “other significant challenges over the course of opening that are not exclusive to us.” She pointed to construction projects in the area, “employees and inventory, time and money.

“Although those are not unique challenges to us, you know, we face them to the best of our ability and continue in spite of them to carry on and try to just keep pushing through to build the business,” she said.

“Everything is so dependent on hitting those targets every single day for sales, and we’ll get to a point where we eventually will have a buffer and it won’t be so tight all the time,” Finkle continued. “But it is a first year for this business. And we had this slow summer, like many other restaurants downtown.”

Finkle said the business had planned for the 2023 summer to shape up similarly to that of 2022. However, traffic and sales have been around 20 to 30 per cent less this summer over last, which “presents its own set of separate challenges.”

The restaurant owner said that while there has not been significant turnover in the front-of-house staff, they have seen turnover in the kitchen staff over the year and a half Whiskey & Rosé has been open.

“It’s literally week by week because we’re still brand new. This week, payroll is on time, and hopefully, that’s going to be the trend going forward so that we don’t have to put people under this kind of pressure. It’s a very tough situation as a business owner…” Finkle said, her voice trailing off in obvious emotion.

Asked about the restaurants being closed on Thursday, Nov. 9, 2023, Finkle said she “needed to regroup” and that she’d spent the day speaking with her business partners and looking at how best to move forward.

“I was feeling pretty gutted,” she said.

Finkle said that she wanted to avoid speaking directly to comments made on Reddit, but that the comments regarding multiple claims filed with the Ministry of Labour by past employees are “specifically not true.” She went on to detail the two instances she says she has been approached by the government: once by the Ministry of Labour regarding a Record of Employment (ROE) for a former employee who failed to file tax documents and the other by the Ministry of Social Services regarding unemployment insurance for a different former employee requiring an ROE. That former employee had also failed to file the tax documents necessary to produce an ROE, she said.

Kingstonist has reached out to the Ministry of Labour in an attempt to confirm that employees of Hey Darlin’ and/or Whiskey & Rosé have, indeed, filed claims as they’ve alleged. No response was received by time of publication, however, the Ministry did indicate they’d received the inquiry and were looking into it.

The chef and restaurant owner said that both restaurants have reopened today, Friday, Nov. 10, 2023, and will continue to be open as usual. She noted they have several holiday parties booked in the coming weeks and are looking forward to a hopefully successful winter season.

“I guess a takeaway for me from this is just that… I can be as accountable and apologetic as I like, you know?” Finkle shared, “The people making those types of comments – To them, this is just a job. But for me, this is my whole life.”

Still, those who took jobs at the restaurants did so to make money — money they say they’ve had to fight for, with many employees/former employees sharing documentation with Kingstonist showing repeated attempts to communicate with Finkle for days without a response. Two employees/former employees shared documentation that showed their lack of payment left them without enough money to pay their rent, and another shared communications between themselves and Finkle where the means of payment changed multiple times within a few days.

“I can sympathize and understand the difficulties of the restaurant business,” that former employee relayed, “but the thing is: it’s a business. And employees having to beg to be paid is not good business.”

Update on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023:

Further to Kingstonist inquiries, the Ontario Ministry of Labour has provided additional information, confirming that an order to pay wages has been issued to the owners on one of 10 claims that have been filed to date. More information on that can be found here.

This is a developing story. Kingstonist will provide further coverage if/when more information becomes available.

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