- Ansel Herz
- From right to left: Former Paseo employees Mario Triolo, Camden Nixon, Tyson Romanovitch, Tyler Grantham, Jordan Platz, Thomas Huckabay, Gil Butler. Not pictured are Valentine Lopez and Faustino Paredes.
Nine former employees of Paseo, who are all out of a job and looking for work after the cherished sandwich shop's sudden closure on Tuesday, want to set the record straight about working conditions at the restaurant.
On Tuesday, I wrote about opposing legal claims between four employees—who sued over alleged wage theft, denial of breaks, and racial discrimination—and the owners of the restaurant, who deny the allegations.
Since then, the workers who contacted The Stranger say they have watched in horror as the reputations of the owners and the restaurant itself have been dragged through the mud, with reviews like this one on Yelp saying the owners deserved what they got.
The owners' decision to close Paseo had a lot to do with the lawsuit, the workers suspected. But it looks like the restaurant was in financial trouble, as well. Paseo filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy yesterday, citing $30,425 in debts and $81,971 in assets, according to a court filing.
"This was the best management I've ever had in my life," said Camden Nixon, who has worked at the restaurant for several years. "We all really love it here and care about the owners. And we've been bummed that we're not still serving."
"Purely lies," said Valentine Lopez, an immigrant from Mexico who worked at Paseo for more than a decade, translated by a coworker, when asked about the claims of wage theft and discrimination. "I never felt like that," he said. "I felt like part of the family, and I would have left if I'd felt discriminated against."
Before we talked on Wednesday, the workers let themselves into the building with sets of jangling keys. The tables where happy customers dug into Paseo's renowned sandwiches were gone. A pile of plates still stood on the counter. We sat in a few plastic chairs in the foyer, while some of them drank Rainier beers.
They all told the same story—each of them nodding vigorously or verbally affirming what the other said—about the four employees who sued the restaurant, who they blame for creating a "poisonous" atmosphere.
"They [the four employees] were always the macho people who would be the first one to call you out if you got injured or wanted to take a break," said Gil Butler, who I recognized as the cashier from the last time I ate at Paseo.
The workers referred to that group as "the family" and said they all come from the same household. "The family" ran the kitchen for years, they said, since before Paseo became well-known and had lines of customers out the door.
The Paseo owners were remarkably generous, they said, sometimes personally driving employees to dentist appointments, insisting they take breaks, paying them for taking sick days, and offering ample pay well beyond the minimum wage ($20 to $30 per hour) through a tip-sharing agreement.
But "the family" who ran the kitchen, the workers alleged, were mean-spirited. Lopez said he left the restaurant and only agreed to come back after last March, once they had been fired. "I was worried about coming back to work while 'the family' was here," he said.
"It took a long time for him [Lorenzo Lorenzo, the owner] to feel like he could have people in place where he could lose those people," said Tyler Grantham, another of the workers. "We just wanted to get the other side's story out," he said.
Lorenzo and his sons, the famously media-shy owners, didn't ask the group to run to the press, Grantham explained—in fact, they wanted no part of it. Their attorney did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.
Trevor Osborne, the attorney for the four employees who filed the lawsuit against Paseo, said he wasn't concerned by the counter-allegations against his clients. "I'd prefer to let this play out in the courts rather than in the media," he said by phone.
Now to the real big important question: Where do the guys who made Paseo sandwiches think their former customers should go to fill the Paseo-shaped void in their lives? They joked about setting up a Kickstarter of their own, but for now, they recommend Roux in Fremont, La Carta de Oaxaca in Ballard, and the Cuban sandwich at Bing's in Madison Valley.
UPDATE: All of the workers named in this article are owed hundreds of dollars in wages, according to the Paseo's bankruptcy filings. But it's not wage theft, says Tyler Grantham by phone. He's owed $475. "It's nothing malicious or something where we felt like we were owed and weren't paid." He says there was an error in the way their last paychecks were processed. "Sorry, we'll do what we can and try to get you guys a claim on the bankruptcy," he says the owners told them.