Food News

Terminated Employee Protests Outside the Pig & the Sprout

Passersby might have spotted a lone protester outside  the Pig & the Sprout, a brand-new restaurant at 1900 Chestnut Street, on Tuesday. That was sixteen-year-old Michaela Knowles, who was terminated from her job as a busser after only a few days of employment. The first-time restaurant employee says she was protesting because she wasn't paid promptly in accordance with Colorado employment regulations.

Knowles says she was hired in May at the second restaurant created by Andy Ganick (who's also the founder of the Berkshire in Stapleton), attended a paid training shift in early June and worked her first shift on Wednesday, June 15, then another shift on June 20. After working briefly on June 21, she was let go and told there were "simply too many people that were working there" and that Ganick had unfortunately removed her from the team, she said in an e-mail to Westword.

Upon returning home, Knowles told her father what had happened, and the two of them returned to the restaurant and retrieved what she thought would be her final paycheck. "But then I realized that the check and tips were only for the work and training that I did to the 16th. It was the 21st, and I had worked on the 20th and 21st for a bit, too," Knowles wrote.

So what did the snubbed busser do? She wrote a scathing review on Yelp! (which has since been removed) and printed a protest sign, then headed back to the restaurant (which happens to be next door to her home) with her father to picket the Pig & the Sprout. Knowles says she was protesting because she didn't get payment for all of her work within 24 hours of termination and because she felt that the original paycheck was late.

A staffer came out and gave her a second paycheck and tips for time worked through that day, but by then Knowles had made up her mind to continue her protest. "The paycheck that I deserved in the first place wasn't going to shut me up," her statement adds.

And so she continued protesting even though she said the staffer "told me that if I stayed any longer, she would call the police."

But Ganick says things went down a little differently. "It's a real unfortunate situation," he says. Knowles was let go on June 21 by a manager, and Ganick wasn't involved, he says — but he was around when she returned and "her father came in fuming angry."

Ganick says he was willing to offer his former employee a second chance, and when he asked how he could "make things right," Knowles's father suggested keeping her on for three hours a week. "We agreed, and at the end of it he hugged me and said, 'Thanks for making it right,'" the restaurateur adds. Despite that deal, Knowles chose to return as a protester rather than as an employee.

"We paid her everything we owed her," Ganick notes. "It's really hurtful to me, because I take pride in how I treat my employees. Some of the crew at the Berkshire have been there since the beginning." (Ganick opened his first restaurant in 2007.)

Colorado labor laws do indicate that terminated employees are to be paid within 24 hours, but the regulations also make allowances for accounting cycles and mail time. Knowles was out in front of the Pig & the Sprout demanding justice the same day she was let go, though she says that a big part of her protest had to do with late payment for her work prior to June 15. Her check had been cut on the 16th but had not yet been delivered — which could have been an oversight typical in a new restaurant gearing up for an opening, or it could have been standard procedure based on the restaurant's payment cycle. That's not the way Knowles sees it, though. "It could be very bad for some of my co-workers that live paycheck to paycheck," she said in the statement she sent to Westword.

In that statement, she also vowed to show up outside the restaurant "every day at noon and dinnertime until I find a new job." But when we visited the Pig & the Sprout at noon today, there were no protesters to be seen.

When we called Knowles to inquire as to her whereabouts, she said she was planning on showing up and asked what time we'd have a photographer there. 

When pigs fly.
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Mark Antonation is the former Westword Food & Drink Editor. In 2018, he was named Outstanding Media Professional by the Colorado Restaurant Association; he's now with the Colorado Restaurant Foundation.
Contact: Mark Antonation