Following the shutter of Illegal Food in Virginia-Highland, operators Steven Lingenfelter and Laurie Dominguez have filed a wage-theft lawsuit. The suit, filed Friday in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, alleges defendants Illegal Food, Ltd. and Kevin Cronin failed to pay federally mandated minimum wages and overtime wages.
Illegal Food, which opened at 1044 Greenwood Avenue NE in February 2015, abruptly closed on Monday. Lingenfelter, the restaurant’s chef, Dominguez, who ran front-of-house as general manager, announcing the shutter in a statement posted on social media. The husband-and-wife team claimed the decision to close came as a shock: “There is no easy way to say this, but after 2.5 years of blood, sweat, and tears, Illegal Food was forced to unexpectedly close our restaurant,” Lingenfelter and Dominguez said.
Illegal Food was owned by Cronin and Didier Stahl, according to a report from What Now Atlanta. The duo told WNA financial issues left them no choice but to close the restaurant, and that they had previously discussed a potential shutter with Lingenfelter and Dominguez.
Why did Illegal Food close? Quite simply put it was not a financially viable operation. In the 2+ years it operated it never made money or broke even. In fact even the joystick days were money losers. It was simply a money loser from day 1. My partner, myself and the Pichuliks have amassed combined debts of close to 200K+. We simply had no choice but to close the doors.
Illegal Food started as a pop-up run out of the kitchen at Joystick Gamebar in Sweet Auburn. The two businesses parted ways in July 2014. The restaurant’s former brick-and-mortar home is owned by Elissa Pichulik, who is not named in the lawsuit.
“Rather than pay its employees minimum wage, overtime pay, or pay its own payroll taxes, Defendants Illegal Food and Kevin Cronin chose to classify Plaintiffs and its other employees as independent contractors,” the lawsuit reads. “By paying its employees as independent contractors, Defendants Illegal Food and Kevin Cronin willingly and knowingly avoided properly paying its employees.
“In addition, by calling Plaintiffs ‘owners’ or ‘partners’, Defendants chose not to pay Plaintiffs even minimum wage, much less the overtime owed, for the three years that Plaintiffs worked twelve to sixteen-hour days, seven days a week. In all instances in which Defendants failed to pay Plaintiffs for overtime hours they worked, Defendants had full knowledge that Plaintiffs worked the hours they were not paid for.”
The lawsuit cites the Fair Labor Standards Act, which establishes minimum wage, overtime pay, record-keeping, and youth employment standards affecting employees in the private sector and in Federal, State, and local governments. Lingenfelter and Dominguez claim they were only made aware of Illegal Food’s impending closure when they lost access to business-related email accounts. They say Illegal Food, Ltd. had gross revenues exceeding $500,000 per year.
Lingenfelter and Dominguez have requested a jury trial and are seeking “pre-judgment interest on unpaid wages, court costs, expert witness fees, and reasonable attorneys’ fees pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 216, and all other remedies allowed under the FLSA.”
See the initial court filing below.