Employees at Fells Point Tavern, a staple bar, are out of jobs after discovering the establishment unexpectedly shuttered, leaving many unpaid for weeks of work and scrambling for new employment.
The stunned employees have filed a complaint with the Maryland Department of Labor and have attempted to file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau. At least one has retained legal counsel.
Bartender J Stratton, who has since picked up bartending shifts at other bars, said she is owed just under $10,000 in back pay. She said she’s dipped into her savings and her phone has been turned off as a result of not getting paid.
“I’m pissed,” she said, adding that starting in early December owner Vasilios Keramidas repeatedly made excuses for not paying staff. “So much of my life has been set back. I have to go to another bar to work. We stopped getting paid before Christmas. All these holidays came around, and we stopped getting paid. He didn’t say anything.”
Keramidas did not respond to several requests for comment.
In a Jan. 25 letter to Keramidas written on behalf of Stratton by her legal counsel, Nelson R. Kandel, Stratton resigned after not being paid for four weeks of work.
“Please be advised that it is a criminal offense when wages are not paid to the employee and can also result in the employee receiving triple the amount due to him/her,” the letter to Keramidas reads.
The Maryland Department of Labor, which handles employee complaints, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Fells Point Tavern still appears to be open, according to its website, which describes its food offerings as: “inspired by the Chesapeake Bay and Maryland’s finest flora and fauna.” But employees said it has not been open since Jan. 14.
Nick Johnson, who owns Su Casa, a furniture store directly across from Fells Point Tavern, said he was surprised by the news when informed Tuesday by The Baltimore Banner.
Johnson is also the president of Fells Point Main Street, the organization that promotes economic development in the neighborhood.
“Ultimately the closure of any business is hard on any community whether it’s Fells Point or any other community in the city,” he said by way of text message. “I feel for the employees, but without being intimately involved in any part of that business, it wouldn’t be appropriate to comment any further.”
Yohan Chan, a 25-year-old Dundalk resident, has been a bartender at the business for 11 months. He said he’s owed about $3,000.
“The entire staff doesn’t know what they are actually owed, because the money log … was always kept by the owner,” he said. “Since I have been working there, not one check was correct.”
Although Chan has found temporary work, he’s “looking for something better.”
In hindsight, Stratton, who has worked as a bartender in the industry since 2011, says she should have seen it coming.
“He’s been having problems paying us since the summertime. We’re supposed to get paid on Friday. Our checks wouldn’t come until Monday or Tuesday, but we would always get them,” she said.
Les Emerson, a 31-year-old Pigtown resident, was general manger at Fells Point Tavern.
“You cannot not pay people,” he said. “Give us our damn money. I want answers.”
He said he was in talks with Keramidas to purchase the establishment and that he seemed willing to sell. But those talks have ended — saying the two haven’t communicated in more than a week.
Emerson estimates he is owed $8,000 — excluding all of the personal money he used to buy supplies and keep the business afloat.
“He’s giving us the runaround. I was at the place for two years. I built up the business. What did he do with the money?” he questioned. “It’s bad money management. They owe a lot of people money. And now it’s time to pay those people back.”
Emerson said he’s reverted to bartending gigs here and there so he doesn’t have to dig too far into his savings.
“It’s a weird limbo,” he said. “We’re just trying to make it work.”