Workers say Center City restaurant is keeping their tips

    Former and current employees of a Center City restaurant are accusing the owner of wage theft.


    Workers at the Caribou Cafe say that, for years, owner Olivier Desaintmartin took portions of their tips to pay for credit card fees.

    Philadelphia City Council banned this practice in 2011, and the cafe changed its policy last year after employees complained. But Sheila Maddali of the Restaurant Opportunities Coalition said the owner never paid employees back the tips they were owed.

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    “The workers who spoke up about the bill and their rights had shifts cut in retaliation for exercising their rights,” she alleged.

    A manager at the cafe Thursday said the owner was not available to respond to the allegations.

    Employees are seeking restitution and a meeting.

    One of them, Jason McCarthy, worked at the restaurant until August of last year.

    “The fact that someone can make so little and still have to pay back to him for the pleasure of taking care of his guests is a really terrible scenario,” he said.

    The public allegations come shortly after high-profile chain Chickie’s and Pete’s settled a large lawsuit over tip theft and other wage violations.

    While the Department of Labor has intervened in larger cases like Chickie’s and Pete’s, smaller groups of employees have had to act independently.

    Maddali said part of the objective of the Caribou Cafe workers is to raise awareness of the ordinance so  other restaurant industry employees know their rights.

    In their own case, the cafe employees said they hope to avoid filing suit by meeting with management.

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