Well-Known NYC Chef and Restaurant Sued for Exploiting “Apprentice” for Cheap Labor
Edward Kim, a former employee at the Manhattan gastropub Spitzer’s Corner, has filed suit in federal court against the restaurant, its owner, prominent lower east side restaurant entrepreneur Robert Shamlian, its former chef, current Bistro Petit owner and executive chef Sung Park, and its general manager David Moon for violating multiple federal and state labor laws. Kim is represented by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF).
“Chef Park, Mr. Shamlian, and Mr. Moon led Mr. Kim, a young, aspiring cook, into believing he would receive a culinary education so he would work over 90 hours a week for as little as $3 an hour,” said Shirley Lin, AALDEF staff attorney.
Kim, who worked at Spitzer’s Corner from March 2010 to January 2011, was told by Chef Park that he was being hired as his “apprentice,” and that the Michelin star-awarded chef, who has worked with celebrity chefs like Jean-Georges Vongerichten, would teach him how to prepare dishes.
Instead, Kim was told to take on all the tasks of the former entry-level prep cook, such as butchering in the basement, as well as to move heavy shipments, clean, and run errands. His shifts lasted as long as 19 hours a day, six days a week, and he was paid as little as $2.91 an hour without overtime. Chef Park instructed Kim not to clock in his hours like other kitchen staff because he was “on salary.”
“I worked for them as hard as I could, sometimes 19 hours a day, because I was promised I would be trained by as skilled a chef as Chef Park,” said Kim. “I never even took a day off. Now I realize they exploited me to get basic kitchen labor for next to nothing, for as long as they could. I gave up so much time and energy. I feel like they’ve set me back on my dreams.”
AALDEF contacted the federal and state departments of labor and learned that no “apprenticeship” program was ever registered with Spitzer’s Corner or Chef Park. Nonetheless, even apprentices must be paid in accordance with minimum wage and overtime laws under state law.
“Chef Park and Spitzer’s Corner misused the apprenticeship label to pay a young worker poverty wages and deny him an accurate accounting of all the hours he worked,” said Lin. “Although the defendants have already profited from their scheme, the law requires them to compensate Mr. Kim for the prodigious amount of work he performed week in and week out.”
The complaint alleges that defendants willfully violated minimum wage, overtime, and spread-of-hours laws, and seeks compensatory and liquidated damages of more than $63,000.