Carl’s Jr.’s first Manhattan restaurant was supposed to bring “authentic, West Coast vibes to the Big Apple.” CKE, the operating company of Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, hyped it with a 25-minute musical, held a lottery-picked press event, and even started selling beer and wine.
But less than five months later, the two-story restaurant, located across from Madison Square Garden that opened late January to long lines and animal rights protests, is closed due to a host of issues. As Eater is reporting, the franchise owner, John Golbari, is being accused by the general manager and three former employees for not paying their final week of wages. A spokesperson for CKE told Eater in a statement: “Although CKE corporate is not responsible for franchisee employee relations issues, we are working with the Manhattan franchise owner to help him remedy this issue as quickly as possible.”
The Manhattan restaurant marked the second Carl's Jr. restaurant to open in New York City this year, with the first opening in Coney Island earlier that January. There’s another Brooklyn store and a unit is set to open August in New Jersey. Carl’s Jr. is plotting Northeast growth as the two iconic brands split from a marketing perspective. CKE said it wants to grow each brand and distinguish them as separate entities, from advertising to food, and seek to entice new customers and remain relevant. Carl's Jr. has about 1,150 units. Midwest, Southeast, and East Coast-based Hardee's totals about 1,870 units.
In regards to the Manhattan store, which was the only franchise bought by Golbari, Eater said the former employees reached out to CKE and haven’t heard back or were told the company couldn’t do anything to mitigate the situation. Ninety-six percent of the units are franchised.
Vanessa Watkins, the GM noted who said she went through an eight-week paid training program in California, told Eater she’s still owned $572 in wages from Golbari, who has stopped answering her inquiries. In total, Eater pegs the owed number to employees at $1,774.50.
Watkins said the restaurant’s poor operations sunk its chances. “We’d run out of food, run out of product, and then that looked bad on us,” she told Eater.
Golbari also allegedly wasn’t forthright with the closing, telling employees it would be closed until things were figured out, according to the article. On June 2, Golbari called Watkins to say the restaurant was temporarily closing down, Watkins said. Former shift leader Elijah Cole provided Eater with text messages that show Golbari told him everything would be resolved on Sunday—a day Cole ended up working.
Here’s where it goes next, as reported by Eater:
“But it quickly devolved from there, staffers say. Former shift manager Nora Montesino says she texted Golbari that same Sunday to ask if the store would be open on Monday, and Golbari replied that it would not be open and instructed her to tell all employees not to come—though he implied the closure might be temporary. That same night, Watkins called Cole to tell him that Golbari was firing the entire staff and closing the restaurant, effective immediately. It never reopened.”
The incident isn’t likely to curb CKE’s expansion plans.
“We're pretty excited about our Manhattan restaurants,” CEO Jason Marker said earlier in the year. “We actually have a few built already and we've got plans to build a few more. We love the idea of this powerful, fantastic, West Coast quality brand turning up in the east to give everyone a run for the money.”
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