Jun 24, 2023 - Business

Casa Bonita cuts employee tips ahead of reopening, drawing backlash

LAKEWOOD, CO - JUNE 16 : Casa Bonita, the Lakewood restaurant, purchased by the creators of South Park 2021, is currently undergoing renovations at Lakewood, Colorado on Thursday, June 16, 2022. (Photo by Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post)

Casa Bonita on June 16, 2022. Photo: Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post

Just days before its much-anticipated reopening, Casa Bonita rescinded its original employment contracts and asked staff to sign new agreements that may amount to smaller wages, Axios Denver has learned.

Why it matters: Casa Bonita's new owners, "South Park" creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, are receiving national attention for their $40 million rehab of the legendary pink-palace venue in Lakewood. Colorado Gov. Jared Polis appeared in a Casa Bonita video touting the promise of the new jobs.

  • But behind the scenes, the pay shift, a weeks-delayed launch and a limited opening with seating just three days a week is raising alarms with some employees.

State of play: Casa Bonita initially advertised salaries ranging from $14.27 to $15.27 for servers and bartenders, in addition to tips. And employees signed contracts earlier this spring agreeing to these wages, according to documents reviewed by Axios Denver.

Yes, but: In the days before Friday's public opening, the restaurant called employees to a meeting at which they were told to sign new contracts within a day or quit, according to one employee who spoke with Axios, describing conversations with other colleagues, as well as documents provided to Axios from another employee.

  • The employees asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution and because of a confidentiality agreement.

By the numbers: The restaurant is now offering a $30 hourly rate to servers and bartenders, but neither will receive tips as part of their wages.

  • The increased hourly rate will provide more stable income if the restaurant is not full. But it represents a decrease in total wages, potentially by hundreds of dollars per shift, from what management suggested with tips when it's near capacity, according to the employee and documents Axios reviewed.
  • It's unclear what would happen with the money if customers decide to leave a tip.
  • Similar to the original contract, the new contract states that health insurance begins after 60 days or more of full-time employment.

The other side: Casa Bonita is requiring tickets to dine at the restaurant, making it more like an entertainment venue, and compensation was adjusted following a testing period to provide a more stable income, spokesperson Stefanie Jones told Axios Denver in a statement.

  • "Casa Bonita values its employees," she said in the statement on behalf of the restaurant management. "Based on the recent beta testing of our one-of-a-kind restaurant, we have adjusted our compensation system for efficiency and fairness."
  • The restaurant's managers declined to answer additional questions.
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