Former Bonchon employees celebrate wage theft settlement

Former Bonchon Uptown workers
Former Bonchon Uptown workers held a rally celebrating their wage theft settlement at the new Bonchon in Dinkytown on Oct. 22. Photo by Andrew Hazzard 

Bonchon Korean Fried Chicken in Uptown was the first place where Sharon Record worked as a server, so the restaurant’s tip share policy didn’t strike her as odd when she started.

At the end of each shift, she said, Bonchon managers would give her about half of the tip money from her tables. The rest, she was told, was going to kitchen staff.

“I didn’t know any of the standards going into it,” she said.

Eventually, the servers of the restaurant gathered and realized this was not normal. A new host started who spoke Spanish — the language used by most of the kitchen staff — and learned the cooks weren’t receiving tip money like management had told the servers. The workers organized and fought back, and last month they celebrated a wage theft settlement that saw workers like Record receive thousands of dollars in stolen wages.

The settlement, reached by the City of Minneapolis Labor Standards Enforcement Division with Bonchon, came after the Restaurant Opportunities Center of Minnesota (ROC) partnered with the former Bonchon workers to try to get their lost wages back.

“When we fight, we can win,” said Erin Lynch, a ROC organizer at a rally celebrating the victory outside Bonchon’s new Dinkytown location in late October.

Former Bonchon workers and the ROC held a rally outside Bonchon’s Uptown location at Lake & Hennepin in May to put pressure on the firm, which reached a settlement with the city in which money and damages owed were paid out to past employees.

When Record was working on Bonchon, she needed to find a second job to pay the bills. If she had been given all the money she earned, she said she’d have had more free time to pursue school and pleasure. Now, Record said she knows her rights and stands up for herself in the workplace. She’s working one job and attending nursing school today.

ZAC, Inc., which operates Bonchon’s Uptown franchise, said in a statement that the company was “pleased to reach a resolution with the City of Minneapolis” in the investigation and is looking forward to “moving on, growing our business and continuing to support and serve our customers, employees and community.” 

ROC said wage theft is far too common in the restaurant industry, pointing to a recent federal Department of Labor investigation on Eat Street that found 12 Nicollet Avenue restaurants owed employees more than $300,000 in stolen wages.

“As workers in the restaurant industry, we deserve better,” Lynch said.