The operators of Frankford Avenue’s Bottle Bar East, known for its laidback vibe and sprawling selection of beer and wine, have agreed to pay 73 workers back wages totaling $246,458, plus an equal amount in damages after federal investigators with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division found that the Fishtown bar/retailer had violated multiple requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act.
The agreement resolves months of litigation that had ensued after the Department of Labor filed its initial complaint against BHMK Enterprises LLC in April 2020, “alleging that Bottle Bar East and its owners willfully violated the minimum wage overtime provisions of the FLSA through their unlawful pay practices,” according to a statement released by the Labor Department on Wednesday.
Investigators determined that BHMK failed to pay front-of-house workers cash wages — forcing them to rely solely on tips — and required them to participate in quarterly cleanings without pay. (Tipped employees in Pennsylvania earn a minimum of $2.83 an hour; if an employee’s tips and cash wages don’t total $7.25 an hour, the employer is supposed to make up for the difference.) In addition, back-of-house workers were paid at their regular hourly rate even when they were working overtime; front-of-house employees didn’t receive overtime either, according to the statement.
“Bottle Bar East stole wages from its workers, harming them and their families and gaining an unfair advantage over employers who play by the rules,” Oscar L. Hampton III, the department’s regional solicitor, said in the statement. “The U.S. Department of Labor will enforce the law to recover hard-earned wages for workers and to ensure a level playing field for law-abiding business owners.”
In addition to the nearly $493,000 in back wages and damages that will be divided among 73 bartenders, servers, cooks, and dishwashers, the court also ordered the company to pay $25,730 in penalties “for the willful nature of the violations.”
“Like all workers, [restaurant workers] deserve to be paid every penny they have earned,” said Jim Cain, Philadelphia Wage and Hour Division district director. “The Wage and Hour Division will continue to hold employers accountable. Other employers should use the outcome of this investigation, and this lawsuit, as an opportunity to review their own pay practices to make sure they comply with the law, and avoid costly violations.”
Bottle Bar East also did not maintain payroll records for servers and bartenders and had incomplete records for cooks and dishwashers, the statement said.
Owners Brad Helder and Mike Kellett could not be reached for comment.