Kim Bartmann has almost paid back her employees... unless you ask her employees

Dozens of Kim Bartmann's laid-off employees say she still owes them damages under state law.

Dozens of Kim Bartmann's laid-off employees say she still owes them damages under state law. Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

In the two months since Kim Bartmann's restaurant workers learned they weren't getting paid for (at least) one week of work, the serial restaurateur has just about managed to make good.

Bartmann, who owns seven Minneapolis restaurants -- Barbette, Pat's Tap, Red Stag Supperclub, to name a few -- tells the Star Tribune she found "outside money to cover payroll," though she didn't specify whose. 

Bartmann, currently under investigation by the Attorney General's Office, says she's paid all employees what they're owed, with the exception of some overtime hours, which she "has money in place to pay," per the Strib. 

Dozens of ex-employees see it differently. A collection of about 80 former Bartmann Group employees (out of roughly 200 affected by the non-payment) has organized under the name One House United, and on Wednesday, about 20 demonstrated outside Barbette and delivered a petition signed by some 3,200 supporters.

They say Bartmann still owes damages, including those inscribed in a Minnesota law governing an employer's failure to pay promptly. As the statute reads, an owner has 24 hours after an employee serves notice for unpaid wages, after which the "discharged employee may charge and collect a penalty equal to the amount of the employee's average daily earnings... for each day up to 15 days, that the employer is in default."

A spokesperson for the organizers estimated to City Pages as many as 60 of Bartmann's laid-off workers are entitled to those statutory damages. The worker group is also seeking balances for unused PTO and sick and safe time, plus severance pay for those who opt out of working for Bartmann again.

Asked by the Business Journal about the prosect of paying damages, the owner "declined to comment." Speaking to the Strib, Bartmann argued Minneapolis businesses aren't obligated for earned sick and safe pay to laid-off employees; she didn't address the state law.

In late March, Bartmann's failure to pay drew the attention of Attorney General Keith Ellison, whose office demanded reams of paperwork documenting Bartmann's business practices. That investigation is still ongoing.

Among Bartmann Group operations, only Barbette, her south Minneapolis flagship, and Bread & Pickle, a concession stand on Lake Harriet, are currently open. (Tiny Diner opened temporarily for takeout, but Bartmann says she closed it after an act of vandalism.) "We don't make any money doing takeout," Bartmann told the Business Journal.

As for Gov. Tim Walz's announcement that restaurants could resume dining service June 1, but only on a socially distanced patio (with maximum four patrons to a table, six if they're a family), Bartmann said the model wouldn't work for some of her establishments. 

"I think I'll be able to open some of my restaurants again," Bartmann told the Business Journal, "and some will probably close forever."