Talula's Garden fined for wage violations

A prominent restaurant in Philadelphia's Washington Square agrees to pay back wages and damages to settle an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor.

Talula's Garden on Washington Square in Philadelphia. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Talula's Garden on Washington Square in Philadelphia. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

The prominent Philadelphia restaurant Talula’s Garden in Washington Square, co-owned by Stephen Starr, has agreed to pay almost $400,000 in back wages and damages after the U.S. Department of Labor investigated the restaurant over forcing workers to put in time “off the clock.”

The department investigated Talula’s Garden from May 2014 to September 2016 and found that some employees were required to come in before their shift started to prepare the kitchen for dinner service.

According to the department, the employees were asked to arrive hours early but not clock in until the scheduled shift start time. That resulted in 63 employees — mostly line cooks and bartenders — losing out on a total of $198,000. A federal judge has approved a deal to pay the back wages, doubled.

Jordana Greenwald, an attorney with the department, said the $400,000 in back wages and liquidated damages will  “compensate those employees for the time for which those employees didn’t have those wages in hand.”

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Talula’s Garden is owned by Washington Square Restaurant Partners, which includes restaurateur Stephen Starr and Aimee Olexy.

“We deny any of the allegations and we are settling only to avoid a protracted litigation. There is no admission of liability,” the partnership said in a statement, adding that it cooperated fully with the department’s investigation.

“Within days of receiving a complaint from a disgruntled ex-employee, and prior to getting notice from the DOL, the restaurant put into place mechanisms making all restaurant workers clock in immediately upon entry to the building,” read the statement.

In the coming weeks, Starr and Olexy are planning to open a new restaurant, to be called The Love, in Rittenhouse Square.

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