Former employees of Mono Diner on Wisconsin Avenue, which permanently closed Aug. 11, allege their employer committed up to $7,000 in wage theft.
The employees have teamed up with D.C. Industrial Workers of the World, an international member-run workers union, in an attempt to get paid for their completed hours. After facing challenges when filing a case with D.C. law enforcement, a former employee, Chase Cabot, approached the Washington, D.C. branch of the IWW. IWW then helped Cabot by starting a GoFundMe page as well as a “March on the Boss,” in which members of the union accompanied Cabot to meet with Mono Diner owner Mohammad Esfahani, who wrote him a check for $800 July 23, according to Cabot.
Cabot was one of multiple former Mono Diner employees who approached the organization for a consultation on how to receive their earned wages, according to IWW Organizer Lou Castro.
“They had come to us saying they had not been paid upwards of $700 and they had moved on and still never got their last paycheck,” Castro said in an interview with The Hoya. “What we uncovered was that there were several other workers at Mono Diner who were owed upwards of $7,000.”
There are still as many as eight workers who have not been compensated, according to Castro.
Cabot had previously worked at the Esfahani brothers’ burger franchise, All About Burger.
“Within about a week I was basically doing everything in the restaurant, I would be making fries, making milkshakes, running out orders to customers, for minimum wage,” Cabot said. “I felt pretty exploited. I felt like I was doing a lot more than I was told I would be doing for the same pay.”
Esfahani opened the restaurant March 4 to attract late-night customers and Georgetown students. Before opening the diner, Esfahani had previously been involved in past cases of property mishandling, lawsuits and corporate conflicts related to past failed restaurant ventures, according to The Washington Post.
Many more of the diner’s workers say they lost similarly large amounts of money. The former manager of the restaurant, Charles Ordoqui, said Esfahani instructed him to withhold paychecks from employees on multiple occasions.
“The owner asked me to not hand out paychecks on payday,” Ordoqui said in an interview with The Hoya. “The first time, he asked me to wait until Monday to hand them out because then there would be money in the account.”
Ordoqui also said that the restaurant did not compensate him for extreme overtime hours he worked, leading to serious financial problems.
“I was working at least 75 hours a week. There were nights where I slept there,” Ordoqui said. “They refused to pay me more than $2,500 in overtime pay. I lost my car and residence.”
Ordoqui said he had no choice but to continue working at the diner in order to pay bills and support his family. He claims he is still owed $5,200.
IWW posted the former workers’ allegations to Instagram, including one post featuring former server Aliyah Washington.
Esfahani’s mismanagement of the diner had serious repercussions for the financial well-being of his employees, according to Washington.
“I am still owed over $3,000, money that was supposed to be for rent and college courses this semester,” Washington wrote in the post. “Now I had to move back home and reset my entire life’s plan.”
Esfahani’s brother and business partner Ebrahim Esfahani said he did not oversee the restaurant but defended that all employees of the diner were properly paid.
“Mono Diner is closed. All the employees were paid. Everyone got paid,” Ebrahim Esfahani said in a phone interview with The Hoya.
Mohammad Esfahani did not respond to a request for comment.
Castro pointed out the prominence of wage theft in the United States, citing an Economic Policy Institute study that shows wage theft accounts for the vast majority of property-related crimes.
Wage theft is a crime that disproportionately affects those who are already vulnerable, Castro said.
“Right now, the majority of people getting arrested for theft are poor and working-class,” Castro said. “But the business owners, people with money and power, get away with it scot-free.”
This article was updated Sept. 6 to reflect that Castro was referring to an EPI study on wage theft.