A half-dozen former employees of Big A’s Cast Iron Café, along with a few supporters, demonstrated peacefully outside the restaurant Monday in protest of not being paid.
The group stood along Highway 144 holding signs with messages such as, “We don’t work for free” and “Give us our pay or close.”
“We just want to get paid,” said protest organizer Shawntray Grant, a former Cast Iron Café cook, who said he is owed two paychecks.
“The whole reason for having this is to let the community of Richmond Hill know what’s going on, because you’re patronizing a business that you think is taking care of their citizens,” Grant said. “You’re thinking you’re giving jobs and giving payment to your neighbor, and your neighbor ain’t even getting paid.”
Diane Caraway, who had been a prep cook, said she received a paycheck six days late and then was asked to wait at least three days to cash her next one. She quit on June 12. Grant stopped working there eight days later.
“This is ridiculous. I’m having to struggle to keep my bills up,” Caraway said.
Cast Iron Café co-owners Adrian Edwards and Valerie Holt acknowledged they owe some former employees money. They are paying it “in increments,” according to Edwards.
“There are people who are owed. I’m not denying that,” Edwards said.
“They do have a valid complaint, and I do understand,” Holt said. “We’ve been very open and honest with everyone. We said, ‘We will pay you when we can,’ and we’ve been doing that.”
Edwards and Holt attributed the payroll shortage to managerial mistakes after becoming the restaurant’s owners in January. For example, they underestimated the tax hit they would take in the first quarter and overestimated the number of employees to hire and their hours.
Also, the owners say they financed the startup with two short-term loans that are costing more than $2,000 every week.
“You get the money, but they take out large amounts daily, so that’s what hinders us,” he said.
Holt claimed she has used personal money to pay employees. She said she went as far as pawning her wedding band to buy food for the restaurant and pay a former employee in $100 bills.
“I came straight from the pawn shop and gave him his money,” Holt said. “That ring paid for inventory, for food. That’s how there’s food in here. I pawned it.”
Grant said the Georgia Department of Labor told him they can’t do anything until Edwards and Holt have owned the café for at least a year and have reached a certain profit margin. Grant plans to take civil action and expects other former employees will as well.
“I know I’m going to end up suing,” he said.
“Is this a good situation? No. It’s hard for everyone,” Edwards said. “But we’re not going to close the doors. It’s going to work out. Everyone’s going to get paid.”
Holt added, “I can tell you one thing, this (protest) is not going to help you get your money any faster. I’m not selling anything else.”
An avid cook, Edwards keeps a smile on his face and maintains an upbeat attitude toward the restaurant.
“We know in our hearts that God is backing us,” Edwards said.
Outside the restaurant, Grant offered a different perspective as he waved his sign at passing traffic.
“God wouldn’t treat his people like this,” he said.