Updated Jul 21, 2023 - Business

Casa Bonita owners under fire for working conditions

Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios

The pink palace intrigue at Casa Bonita is intensifying.

Driving the news: The restaurant's employees went public late Wednesday with more concerns about working conditions at the Lakewood landmark, amplifying what Axios first reported in June about disputes involving salary cuts made ahead of the opening weekend.

Why it matters: The labor controversy is overshadowing the much-celebrated return of Casa Bonita under new owners, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the creators of "South Park," and acclaimed chef Dana Rodriguez — one touted by Colorado's governor and other local leaders.

Details: 50 employees hand-delivered a list of demands to managers at a staff meeting July 12, insisting the restaurant return to higher pay promised when employees were hired and provide access to health benefits.

  • They gave management one week to address the issues, but never received a response.

Zoom in: Because the restaurant currently only opens three days a week with limited hours and seating, employees say they aren't able to make the salaries needed for a living wage or to receive health insurance.

  • Casa Bonita management eliminated its tipped wages in exchange for higher hourly pay, but employees say it's still far less than what they were promised when hired.
  • Employees also want former workers who were dismissed amid contract renegotiations to be reinstated and better communication from management.

The intrigue: The letter was drafted with help from Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, a national labor group.

What they're saying: "The mood inside the restaurant "is a little tense, for sure," bartender Gayle Durr told Axios in an interview Wednesday. But, she says, "we've all stuck it out primarily hoping we'd be able to turn things around."

  • “This is a bait-and-switch," Russ Lee, fired Casa Bonita bartender, added in a statement. "We were excited about the possibility of reviving a Denver institution, but what began as a really fun adventure has turned into a real-life financial nightmare."

The other side: In a statement to Axios, Casa Bonita management did not address the employees' demands.

  • “Casa Bonita strives to create the best working environment for its employees. This includes implementing the best compensation structure for all employees—not just a few," spokesperson Shannan Reese wrote in the statement.

What to watch: Employees are trying to rally community support to their cause with an online petition and various social media accounts, and plan to continue to spotlight the restaurant's working conditions.


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