The District Miami Owners Sued for Back Pay

Sometimes when a restaurant fails, it implodes. And chances are the flashier and more extravagant the opening, the bigger and messier the closing.

The District Miami opened to much fanfare in late 2013. The restaurant seemed to have it all — a prime location just north of the Design District  around the corner from Miami mainstay Mandolin, and a star executive chef in Horacio Rivadero, who would go on to win recognition as a James Beard Award semifinalist while at the pan-American eatery.

Now, nearly two years after opening, the restaurant is closed. And a former District chef and DJ have taken separate legal action against the restaurant’s owner, the Creative Restaurant Group.

Chef Alexander Hernandez was brought on while Rivadero was still at the District’s helm before he left to open Miami Beach’s Tantalize in late spring 2015.

Tantalize and representation for the restaurant did not return a request for comment.

In the months leading up to the District’s closure in August, many employees weren’t getting paid, according to Hernandez and Camila Mora, AKA DJ Camee, a Sunday brunch and Friday night DJ who claims the district owes her $2,500.

“It is a lot of people. It is bad. For a month, people didn’t get paid for tips,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez was getting a paycheck, albeit on Wednesdays instead of the typical Mondays, he said. That is, until the last three weeks he was in the District’s kitchen.

On a Wednesday in August, Hernandez was at home on his day off, taking care of his four-month-old baby, when he says he got a call from Maria Gonzalez, the listed president of Creative Restaurant Group. Gonzalez needed him to come in because one of the other cooks had quit, not willing to turn out entrees without pay, Hernandez said.

Hernandez got another cook to cover, but he left after getting his check. Hernandez then showed up on Thursday and asked for his back wages. “I needed to pay my rent. I’ve got my baby at home. I needed my rent, I don’t want to be late paying,” Hernandez said. Hernandez was told money would be deposited into his bank account by the end of the day, he said, so he got back in the kitchen.

“But then it was 4:30, and there was no money... so I went home,” Hernandez said. The restaurant then closed that night — allegedly for a gas leak —  and when Hernandez returned on Friday, paintings were being taken off the walls, he said. The paintings were the most valuable thing in the restaurant, Hernandez said.

Lenard Gorman, the attorney for Gonzalez and the Creative Restaurant Group, declined to comment.

Hernandez has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor, he and his wife, Lynette Naval, said.

Mora has filed a claim in Miami-Dade County Small Claims Court to recoup wages for two months of work in 2014. Mora’s paycheck was delayed because the District claimed to be having unforeseen financial issues, according to the claim.

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