Life in a restaurant is far different than life in corporate America, especially for the 15 former employees of Jardines restaurant. Jardines has been a Kansas City jazz landmark for as long as I can remember. Some of the greatest jazz musicians in the world have played this little club, but this weekend they showed up to locked doors. At first they were told of a family emergency. Later it was closed for repairs. Soon the truth started emerging that the owner had fired the entire staff. One question remains unanswered. Why was the entire staff of this jazz institution fired just weeks before the holidays?
Answers began leaking almost immediately. Former gossip columnist, and ex romantic interest of Jardines’ owner, Hearne Christopher began writing of new chandeliers. Former nightclub owner, and notorious party boy, Craig Glazer came out saying that the entire staff was stealing. When some news stations showed up at the restaurant, they were also told the staff was fired for theft. It seems like just another case of a well connected club owner using media connections to squash the story. Today, it is time for the other side of the story to be heard.
None of the stories I was reading were matching up with the stories I had been hearing for years. I’ve known several people who worked at Jardines, including some for the fired 15. I would vouch for their integrity and character. These are not people who would steal. When I have asked about openings there, they have always told me that the money was great when you finally got paid. I have also seen pictures of what can happen when the owner was having a bad night. Friends who refused to file assault charges out of fear of retaliation to co-workers. Friends who refused to file labor law complaints because they loved the club and the people they worked with. Now they have no one else there protect and they are willing to tell their stories.
The story began on Thanksgiving night when one too many late night tirades from the owner caused the manager to turn in his notice. This event led to the owner taking over daily operations. Many staff members were owed tips that the owner called “negatives.” When at the end of the night a server’s credit card tips exceed their cash sales, the restaurant will give the servers cash or a check. In some restaurants this money will accumulate until the next paycheck. In this restaurant, several servers were owed back tips for weeks and even months. Within a week, the owner had it with her servers asking about the money that was owed to them.
Last Wednesday, the performer scheduled for that night received a call stating that the club would be closed that night due to a “family emergency.” When the employees arrived, they were instructed to rearrange furniture and perform cleaning projects. For servers who are paid well under the legal minimum wage because they are receiving tips, this meant performing manual labor for $3.63 an hour. No one knew quite what to make of this, but there was an awkward feeling in the air. By all accounts, the owner was acting reasonably normal, but tense. When an employee asked about his back tips being paid, it all went downhill.
On Thursday, employees began receiving calls one by one and told that they were fired. Those that came into work were fired on the spot. One employee who arrived at work to be fired implored the owner to seek help for the issue that was causing her to act so irrationally. The owner called the police to have the employee removed from the property. Everyone I have spoken with explained that the owner did not seem to be in a condition to be making major business decisions and decisions the effect the financial livelihood of her employees. I am choosing to not discuss the causes of this because I feel it only clouds the issue.
On Friday, one of the hottest bands in Kansas City was scheduled to play at Jardines. They were assured that day the club would be open. When they arrived that evening, they found locked doors and a sign that said, “Closed for repairs.”
On Monday, the local television stations began investigating the story. The owner was unavailable for comment. The person who did answer the door at the restaurant told them that the entire staff was fired for theft. No one I spoke to was told that theft had anything to do with the reason they were fired. There was no investigation of theft. No evidence was presented. No charges were filed. The owner has leaked this to media sources and tarnished the reputation of her former employees to any forum that would give her a chance. This is a prime indicator of the lack of respect for her employees’ livelihood and labor laws that this owner blatantly displays.
There are three primary points that I keep hearing from the people I have talked to. The first is that they simply want the money that is owed to them. The back tips are being written off by some who have seen what happened to other employees who left. This is money that was left to them by patrons that the owner has received and is not relinquishing to the servers. The second point is that the owner has long demonstrated a pattern of abuse, irrational behavior, and manipulation. They are all glad to be gone, but wished it was not as a result of being fired at the most lucrative time of year. The third is a sense of guilt.
I have been in this type of situation and can relate to this guilt. Those that were leaders amongst the staff feel guilty for helping to keep other staff members there. The sense of camaraderie they showed cost them dearly. They enter a Christmas season unemployed and wondering how they are going to provide for themselves and in some cases their children. They feel guilty for not standing up sooner. They feel guilty for fighting to maintain a Kansas City institution even though it was never in their power to do so.
All of the former employees I talked with still seem to have love Jardines. They have stories to share of great times with the musicians and the patrons. The finger points in just one direction for the current crisis. This situation has cost many musicians and restaurant employees the ability to support themselves with their trade. My hopes is that any server considering filling one of the 15 open positions at this restaurant knows what they are getting into and why that position is open in the first place. I hope that every band who is offered a gig at Jardines takes the time to consider what this owner has done to her staff and musicians alike. Is this truly someone you want to help support?
In nautical times, the captain always went down with the ship. Things are a bit different nowadays. The hole in the side of Jardines was caused by the captain. This captain responded by throwing the crew overboard. Even as she did, the crew tried to throw her a life preserver. In the end, the captain will still go down with the ship and the loss will be felt by Kansas City for years to come.
UPDATE: If anyone had any doubts about this post being too biased towards servers, check out the following update from Dave Stephens, regarding his payment for his recent performance