Former staff members at Hell’s Kitchen’s now-shuttered Casellula wine and cheese bar are today planning a protest against new owners Vin Sur Vingt — while remembering the happy times spent working at the award-winning neighborhood favorite. 

Staff Chalk Casellula
Staff from Casellua have protested their sacking and change in working conditions this year. Photo: Anthony Colon

W42ST reported on Vin Sur Vingt buying Casellula from owner Brian Keyser in September 2022 after Keyser decided to pursue a new career in public health. Former staff members say that the new owners declared that current employees would stay on after the deal closed at the end of 2022 and added them to a new 2023 schedule, pending temporary restaurant renovations. W42ST has obtained emails showing that some former staff members received 2023 schedules. But after a dispute over the restaurant’s new tip structure left out their back of house staff, former staff said that Vin Sur Vingt reversed course — shutting down operations and terminating them.

Vin Sur Vingt founder Rakesh Chandiramani disputed the allegations to W42ST: “To date, neither Casellula, nor any other restaurant, has opened in the space, and no staff has been hired at all. We are working to unwind the purchase and have no intention to open any business at the location in the future. While we have sympathy for the employees of Casellula who were let go by their employer, we are not responsible for their termination.  We have never been their employer, and are not their employer, and their ire towards us and attempts to place blame upon us are misplaced and unfounded.”

Anthony Colon Casellula
Anthony Colon working at Casellula last year. Photo: Phil O’Brien

“We hoped they would take the chance to sit and speak with us,” said former server Anthony Colon, who worked at Casellula since May 2022. “Casellula was not only a neighborhood restaurant but an experience. That experience came from having an amazing restaurant with an incredible team behind it. That team was made possible by a fair wage model and tip pool that allowed everyone to benefit.”

Former server Tiffany Barrett agreed. “It was a family — such a special team,” she said. “People would ask me and other staffers frequently if we owned the restaurant. I don’t think that’s typical. But truly I think it was because of the level of care we felt for Casellula. We felt a sense of ownership over the experience that people were having.” 

Tiffany Barrett
Tiffany Barrett (right) has protested the change in employment conditions at Casellula. Photo supplied

Former server Christopher Metzger-Timson was a customer who believed in Casellula’s mission so much — “I went there all the time, and even held my engagement party at Casellula,” he told W42ST —  that he applied to work there in 2022. “It was nothing but joyful. Everyone helped out and treated each other with respect.”

Today’s protest will be held at noon in front of the restaurant at 401 W52nd Street between 9th and 10th Avenue. The demonstration is in partnership with the hospitality advocacy group One Fair Wage, a group dedicated to organizing with service employees and legislators to advance policy around fair compensation. They will also be joined by State Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal, a vocal supporter and co-sponsor of new legislation which would guarantee a $15 minimum wage to service workers.

“It’s a travesty what’s happening to the employees at Casellula, which has long been not just a really good wine bar and restaurant for Hell’s Kitchen, but a model for how to pay workers fairly. The owner left in place a structure that would continue to benefit employees and provide the highest level of service to customers, and I’m heartsick that it’s come to this,”  said Senator Hoylman-Sigal.

Casellula no sign
The sign for Casellula has been removed. Vin Sur Vingt said in a statment: “We are working to unwind the purchase and have no intention to open any business at the location in the future.” Photo: Naty Caez

Yesterday, the signs for Casellula had been removed from the exterior of the restaurant. W42ST reached out to Keyser for comment on the situation.

Join the Conversation


  1. Such a shame. But it is a round world. People need to be reminded of this story when these new owners try and reopen in the future.

  2. Someone who buys a business takes it subject to the existing lease and other service contracts. Only the employees have no rights against the buyer.

  3. Michael , above , is right . This happens way more often than you think . Most places, & not just restaurants , when they are taken over by a new owner , want their own NEW staff. And remember , no matter how wonderful the old staff is , they still DO NOT OWN the establishment . So ….New owner .. New RULES.

  4. I get that a new owner may want a new staff. But then Chandiramani probably shouldn’t have told them they’d be kept on if they weren’t going to be kept on. Anyway, no problem- I’ll take my frequent visits and my in-town guests elsewhere from now on.

  5. From a previous W42st article, “ Rakesh emphasized that he and his business partner and co-founder Sebastien Auvet plan to build on what Casellula already has, adding: “First and foremost, we’re excited about keeping the team. It’s a deal breaker to us – if the team doesn’t transition with us, how can we maintain the ambiance? How can we maintain the experience? Because the team is so critical to creating that. So that includes Brian and Chef Jen as well as the other important members of the team.”

  6. I’m so sad to hear about Casellula. It’s my go to place and I will never go to Vin Sur again, which is around the block from me off of Riverside. It’s terrible to read how the new owner is so spiteful and how treated the staff. Casellula was about the entire experience, which includes the staff.

  7. The article is unclear. It alludes to back of house employees and something having gone wrong with their pay arrangements, but does not explain further. Whatever happened, the tendency here to hang the new owner, who may never have consummated his purchase (the story is not clear on that either) is foolish but typical of how most of us react these days.

  8. Sadly too, we’re were given a gift certificate from our family for Christmas (they had heard of it’s good reputation). Planning our trip from Pittsburgh in October, excited for shows and to enjoy a meal here, we find out we’ve lost out on the meal and our family with no way to recoup the money they spent on the certificate.

  9. We went there, I am Canadian, for my birthday on Dec 11, 22. I canceled a reservation elsewhere because this place was so beautiful. I too asked if they staff owned the place since they were so caring. I am saddened to see this.. it was a magical place and I feel terrible for the staff.

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