Tag Archives: restaurant

Wage Theft

28 Feb

Managers underpaid, stole tips, threatened, Happy Lamb Hot Pot workers say at protest

 

Protesters march and hand out fliers outside Happy Lamb Hot Pot in Central Square on Wednesday. (Photo: Tom Meek)

A frigid Wednesday night threatening snow didn’t deter about 40 to 50 workers and supporters, including officials from Cambridge and Boston, from assembling outside Happy Lamb Hot Pot in Central Square to protest alleged wage theft by management.

The rally aimed “to call attention to the pervasive wage theft, retaliation and abuse [workers] have experienced since working at the popular restaurant,” according to a Chinese Progressive Association press release. A legal action seeking an eye-grabbing $800,000 was filed late last year, based on triple damages for violations of failure to pay minimum-wage workers for labor and overtime, ignored sick time mandates, tip theft and retaliation against some plaintiffs, said Bethany Li, an attorney and director of the Asian Outreach Unit at Greater Boston Legal Services representing the nine Latino and Asian workers. The claim is “just at the beginning,” but lawyers have already “begun to exchange numbers” and negotiate with Happy Lamb management, Li said.

Happy Lamb Hot Pot, which opened March 2016 and operates under the umbrella of an international chain called Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot, is managed by northeast regional manager William Cheung. A second Happy Lamb Hot Pot opened in Chinatown in October. Li said it’s unclear if the restaurants are franchised, spun off or part of the bigger international organization.

Only one plaintiff still works at the Cambridge location, at 485 Massachusetts Ave., Li said.

State Rep. Mike Connolly, rear, and Boston city councilor Ed Flynn, by the restaurant’s “open” sign, join the rally. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Happy Lamb’s culinary appeal is its assortment of boiling Mongolian broths used to cook ingredients at the table. Broths come mild or spicy, and diners can choose half portions for “the best of both worlds.” The main meat offering is lamb shoulder shaved thin, like prosciutto. There’s also beef, ox tongue and chicken – and Happy Lamb has a strong  4.5 rating on Yelp.

According to Li and Chinese Progressive Association executive director Karen Chen, the wage theft came to light during a legal clinic put on by Greater Boston Legal Services at the association’s center in Chinatown. Chen said there was real fear among many of the plaintiffs. One former worker cited being threatened by a butcher knife, and others who testified at the rally said they were subject to physical abuse.

The rally – headlined by the chant, “Happy Lamb, you’re a sham, treat your workers right” – also featured a festive dragon dancer in colorful garb and several members of Jobs With Justice, who marched and chanted in an elongated oval under the watchful eyes of bundled-up Cambridge police. Adding political clout to the proceedings were Cambridge city councillors Sumbul Siddiqui and Quinton Zondervan; state Rep. Michael Connolly; and Boston city councilor Ed Flynn. 

Employees inside Happy Lamb seemed unfazed, though some early diners and passers-by seemed impressed and amenable to taking fliers calling for “justice” in English and Spanish. Attempts to reach Cheung or other management for comment were unsuccessful before and after the rally. 

Wings and Yummy Things

24 Feb

Restaurants arrive on red line as destinations for diners seeking Asian, French, small plates

 

Jae’s Cafe is in Somerville’s Davis Square. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Along the red line in each of our three northernmost squares, eateries with time-tested roots have popped up within the past month.

Jae’s Cafe is in Somerville’s Davis Square at what was the Korean restaurant Meju. If the name seems familiar, Jae’s was a popular pan-Asian restaurant franchise in Boston and Cambridge in the 1990s and early 2000s. It never officially went away – there’s still a Jae’s in Pittsfield, and owner Jae Chung owns Koreana in Central Square, one of the few places in town to get Korean barbecue at your table. The menu for Jae’s has traditionally been a blend of classic Thai (Pad Thai), Korean (Bibimbap) and sushi staples; on Elm Street locale, the focus is more on Korean. The rebranding comes as no surprise, though the timing is interesting, as Chung had become involved in the ownership of Meju last year after the eatery began to languish. Jae’s will face the same challenges as Meju: a heavy concentration of competition. There are seven other Asian restaurants in the area, including Sugidama Soba & Izakaya, Genki Ya Sushi and two ramen restaurants. It is, however, the only Korean venue.

243 Elm St., Davis Square.

Colette in Porter Square. (Photo: Colette via Facebook)

One T stop down, the French bistro Colette has finally opened in a long-vacant restaurant and lounge spaceon the ground level of the Porter Square Hotel. The eatery, which offers a French cafe-style breakfast as well as Francophile dinner offerings, is operated by Loic Le Garrec and Sandrine Rossi. The duo, natives of France, run sister restaurants over in Boston: Petit Robert Bistro on Columbus Avenue, and Frenchie in the South End. The dinner menu features classic French Onion Soup ($11), Wild Mushroom Vol au Vent (a mushroom-filled flaky pastry for $13), Nicoise Cannelloni Coq au Vin (pasta stuffed with chicken, mushrooms and bacon for $12), Steak Frites ($32) and, aptly, a grilled Porterhouse steak you can sink your teeth into for a eye-popping, but not off-the-charts, $78. The cut is arguably named after Zachariah B. Porter, who ran a hotel and steakhouse across Massachusetts Avenue in the late 19th century, while the restaurant in part is named after the 20th century French writer and performer Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette.

1924 Massachusetts Ave., Porter Square. Continue reading

Haunts

30 Nov

Andy’s Diner, home of the Cambridge Classic, has become one itself after 60 years in Porter

Andy’s Diner has been serving food in Cambridge since 1958. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Hard to believe Andy’s Diner, the old-school breakfast and lunch spot just north of Porter Square at 2030 Massachusetts Ave., has been slinging eggs and serving coffee since 1958. Over those 60 years there’s barely been a change in process, service or menu. Sure, there was a switch in owners (current owner and chef Jimmy Dres bought it from Andy Sbordone in 1989) and the diner moved locations by a few doors about a decade in, but when you walk through the door, you feel like you’ve stepped back in time: There’s a soda fountain-style counter with fixed barstools that swivel, and the walls are decorated with Boston sports heroes from before the Sox reversed the curse or Tom Brady stepped into the GOAT conversation – you know, guys like Larry Bird, Dennis Johnson and Steve Grogan.

With exposed brick walls and ’70s-style booths, Andy’s, open 6 a.m. to 3 p.m., serves breakfast all day and boasts a basic but vast griddle and deli menu – including homemade soups. Dres describes most of his clientele as loyal, blue-collar workers and regular local families with a peppering of curious collegians seeking a hearty hangover cure or in need of a cozy study session spot-cum-comfort food. 

Andy’s owner and chef Jimmy Dres and server Kelly Butler Pinksen. (Photo: Tom Meek)

If there’s a specialty, it’s the omelettes. Dres has a process adopted carefully from Sbordine. “They’re never burned, and perfectly even, kind of like an egg burrito,” Dres says. Indeed: They are neatly folded, long golden crepes of egg with a perfect distribution of fillings.

Dres, who has an affable, low-key persona, reflects on the joy of serving families with parents who’d been the kids in that booth decades earlier. He’s also appreciative of the people he works with, including Tina Ravanis, one of Sbordine’s granddaughters. During a recent visit, hardworking server Kelly Butler Pinksen – with Dres for more than 15 years – greeted customers by first name and asked if they wanted “the usual.” You really don’t see that in Cambridge so much these days. 

The building Andy’s is in sold recently, and while the rent may have gone up, you can still get a dollar-stretching deal there. The menu, with its “Cambridge Classic” – French toast with two eggs, sausage, bacon and coffee – also has daily specials and rotational items, such as a fish dinner on Fridays. “Everything is fresh and made here,” Pinksen says.

An Andy’s omelette – ““They’re never burned, and perfectly even, kind of like an egg burrito.” (Photo: Tom Meek)

Outside there’s the continual reminders of transformation in the neighborhood, if not the new hotel and Target store in Porter Square then the gaping construction site across the street where the Lechmere Car Wash used to be. Dres shows no signs of slowing amid all the change. Asked if there’ll be a new generation to run the place, he smiles and says only, “It’s a lot of work.”

If a perfectly cooked omelette, low cost and friendly service isn’t enough to draw you in, know that Andy’s also has its own free parking lot – something else that’s not so common in Cambridge this days.

Much around Andy’s has changed, but it remains one of the few true Cambridge classics.