Former Heidi's employees crowd funding to replace lost wages

The note informing customers and employees when Heidi's closed unexpectedly last week
The note informing customers and employees when Heidi's closed unexpectedly last week

The fallout from Heidi's closure continues. Over the weekend, a crowd funding site at

Go Fund Me

sprang up asking for the public's help to recoup lost wages and credit card tips for the former staff at Heidi's. We reached out to the Woodmans and the former server who started the fund to get the full story.

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The goal the former employees hope to raise is not a small amount of money -- $46,000 -- and thus far, they've raised $330. They are hoping to reclaim all of their lost wages from the month of October, including the credit card tips that they would have received on their bi-monthly paychecks. This was gratuity that customers paid that should have been given to their servers, who would then tip out the support staff, like dishwashers.

Woodman explained what happened and why his former employees have not received payment. "The unintended consequence of our decision to close the restaurant was that the bank foreclosed immediately on all assets, including bank accounts. As a result, the bank has bounced any check that was not cashed, and we have no access to any accounts. We have asked that they cover payroll checks from the funds that they have seized, but have no control over their decision at this stage. Legally we are told that they have a right to do this, and they will not budge."

Chi Ngo, the former server who initiated the site, said there was not a lot of transparency about Heidi's closing. "We all showed up to work on Tuesday, even though on Monday Stewart had sent an email saying that he was resigning as chef of Heidi's.  We stuck around for a few hours and then went home. The next day it was all over the news. Nobody reached out and told us what was going on."

When asked how the former employees arrived at $46,000 for their crowd-funding goal, Ngo said simply, "We have the payroll." In other words, they know exactly the amount of wages and tips they are owed. "I don't know the laws, but our tips are our property. We're just trying to catch up on the month. The only reason I started the website was because several of my co-workers were calling me crying."

Meanwhile, Stewart Woodman continues to hope to raise some money.  "We've been working hard to identify buyers for the hard assets to cover the loan amount in a purchase, so that the bank will release funds to cover checks. Additionally, we are personally working to secure funding to cover the checks independently, but this will take time."

Other local restaurants have reached out to the unemployed workers. "I had heard that Borough offered to hire people, so I spoke with Nick [O'Leary]. He's a friend and he confirmed that he had said something about being able to hire some of Heidi's staff. Marin has reached out as well," Ngo said.

When asked if she or any former Heidi's employees had accepted the offers of employment, Ngo laughed ruefully, "I think we're taking the week off. A lot of people are angry and hurt, but... it hasn't even been a week. Hopefully, the [crowd-sourced] fund will help pay some rent, keep the water on. But I would love it if we could refund every dollar. We're keeping track and any money that we receive from the restaurant would be refunded back [to contributors]." She went on to say, "This industry is like a family. The support means so much."

Heidi's closing was a loss for the restaurant community, for the employees, and for longtime customers. It was also very personal loss for the Woodmans.  In closing, Stewart Woodman explained, "Heidi and I poured everything we had into Heidi's. Now both financially and personally exhausted, our healthiest choice -- as parents, business owners and employers -- was to move on. We love the folks that stayed with us through a tough year, and it breaks our hearts that they have been hurt. We are not giving up on getting funds released to see that they are paid what is rightfully theirs."

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