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