An East Hollywood Restaurant Got Busted Paying Servers as Little as $25 a Day

Now the owners owe $519,706 in backpay and fines

According to the California Labor Commissioner’s Office, Thai Town’s the Shrimp Lover paid its waitstaff flat daily rates of $25 to $30 from July 2014 to January 2017, then manipulated servers’ earning statements by officially paying them $10 per hour minimum wage. Servers were also reportedly required to work off the clock and to skip breaks. Now the owners owe big money in fines and backpay.

“Paying servers a daily rate below the minimum wage is a business model built on wage theft,” Labor Commissioner Julie A. Su said in a public statement. “This case demonstrates that when workers speak up about abuse, we will investigate and employers who rely on worker exploitation will be held accountable.”

Owners Jaruwat Sonachai and Sineernart Klinmalai owe $471,756 in underpaid minimum wage to their staff, including overtime and meal and rest breaks. Sonachai and Klinmalai also owe $47,950 in civil penalties for the wage theft violations and for producing “improper” wage statements, for a total of $519,706.

The Asian-Cajun hybrid that sits in the same Hollywood and Normandie strip mall as Carousel and Darabar, where it used to be known as Boiling Shrimp, is not alone in short-changing its employees. Wage theft is a longstanding issue in L.A.-area restaurants. In a 2016 investigation, KCRW tallied the top 20 offenders; 15 of the 20 owed at least six figures for similar behavior.

At the Shrimp Lover, shifts averaged seven hours and staffers were paid as little as $4 an hour. The 25 affected employees were also not paid overtime for their 14-hour doubles, according to the California Labor Commissioner’s investigation.

The employees sought help through nonprofit advocacy group Asian Americans Advancing Justice, which in turn alerted the state.

The citations announced Monday apply only to the Thai Town restaurant, not its Redondo Beach Pier or Sacramento outposts. However this is not the first time labor investigators have cited the Hollywood Boulevard location. A separate investigation last year revealed that the Shrimp Lover did not have an adequate employee illness or injury prevention program in place, did not have working fire extinguishers available, did not provide sufficient hazard communication, and did not provide an emergency eyewash or shower station for employees working with those hazardous materials. The California Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued six workplace safety citations totaling $9,075 in penalties.

The restaurant’s hostess said the owners and managers were too busy with service to comment on Monday evening.

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