You May Also Like

castor and pollux organic dog food

How to pack the perfect healthy picnic (for you and your furry BFF)

coffee

Is coffee actually good for you?

Does double dipping spread germs?

Hold the guac (seriously): Double-dipping is a grosser party foul than you realized

New tech keeps avocado from turning brown

Costco is now selling avocados that last *twice* as long—but how?

Japanese iced coffee may overshadow cold brew

Japanese-style flash-chilled coffee is about to be your quick-brewed summer obsession

Farmed salmon vs. wild

Why you shouldn’t fear the pink dye in your affordable farm-raised salmon

Exclusive: Sarma Melngailis opens up about what’s going on at Pure Food and Wine


Photo: Mark Cuddihee
Sarma
(Photo: Mark Cuddihee)

On January 13, 2015, the staff at New York City’s most revered (and only fine dining) raw food restaurant walked out, and chef-owner Sarma Melngailis has not commented on the ongoing drama—until now.

Pure Food and Wine has been the go-to spot for the city’s wellness elite, like superstar yogis, for more than a decade. Celebrities like Katie Holmes eat there, and Alec Baldwin found Hilaria by dining in the picturesque garden.

So naturally, many were shocked by the turn of events. Employees from both Pure Food and Wine and takeout sister shop One Lucky Duck began protesting outside the restaurant with signs that said “Wages Now!” and “Many Unlucky Ducks,” and Grubstreet published an essay from a waitress detailing how long it had been since her and her co-workers had been paid. Through it all, Melngailis stayed silent, not responding to requests from reporters and going mum on social media.

Now, nearly a month later, the restaurant and One Lucky Duck locations remain shuttered (and the New York Times even declared them “closed” last week). But Melngailis has surfaced, first via a personal blog post, and then agreeing to an exclusive interview with Well+Good. 

When asked, she declined to share the exact details of the events leading up to the payroll debacle, but admitted that a variety of circumstances (both personal and professional) caused the situation to spin out of control.

“When things are on the edge, its easier for things to come apart,” she said. “What a lot of people and even the staff don’t know is that the restaurant has a very complicated history, and from day one has had an enormous amount of debt on the books. People from the outside see a busy restaurant, and they assume I must live in a huge penthouse…and it could not be more opposite. There are plenty of times I have not been paying my own rent to make payroll.”

Sarma Melngailis
Employees protesting (Photo: Eater.com)

Running a restaurant focused on high-quality, healthy ingredients in the most expensive city in the country, she says, has also been nearly unsustainable. “The ingredients are all organic and perishable and very expensive. It’s really, really hard to make it work. A lot of healthy, organic businesses have started and gone out of business. The margins are so slim,” she says.

Of course, none of the explanations for the financial woes change the fact that staffers have not been paid for many hours already worked, and one of their biggest complaints was that Melngailis had been absent and silent rather than filling them in on what was going on.

On this point, Melngailis says she’s particularly distraught, explaining that she was out of town looking into solutions to some of the restaurant’s problems when the walk-out happened, and she wishes she had been more communicative. “I have a tendency, when I’m feeling bad and down, to really hide and work on my computer and try to fix things,” she says. “It’s painful for me every day knowing that they’re all waiting on me. That hurts me every day. I get that people don’t understand—I don’t expect them to—and at some point I can explain it more, once the dust settles, and more importantly, once they’re paid. It’s heartbreaking to me.”

As for the future, Melngailis says she’s working day and night to secure funding to get the business back up and running as soon as possible, but she’s not ready to commit to any timeline. “I wouldn’t say anything until everything is confirmed,” she says. “I look forward to healing all those relationships and making things right.” —Lisa Elaine Held

Loading More Posts...

You May Also Like

grapefruit rosemary frose

The two ingredients that will take your frosé from basic to beyond

popcorn chicken

These Whole30 chicken nuggets are kid- and adult-approved

Farmed salmon vs. wild

Why you shouldn’t fear the pink dye in your affordable farm-raised salmon

coffee

Is coffee actually good for you?

castor and pollux organic dog food

How to pack the perfect healthy picnic (for you and your furry BFF)

Japanese iced coffee may overshadow cold brew

Japanese-style flash-chilled coffee is about to be your quick-brewed summer obsession