Casa Bonita responds to the catalog of demands of the employees

DENVER — Casa Bonita responded Friday to a list of demands from some of its employees focused on better working conditions and pay, saying they wanted the Colorado landmark to open “well, not fast.”

Demands from #WeAreTeamCasa, a group of about 50 Casa Bonita employees, include clarity from management about the restaurant’s hours of operation and health benefits, as well as transparency from owners and “a voice in the workplace.”

The collective said in a statement on Wednesday that it was originally promised benefits, but many had not met the hours worked threshold to qualify for those benefits because there was “no clear path to being open seven days a week.” The restaurant has only been open Thursday through Saturday since it reopened last month.

“We were hired full-time at 40 hours a week, but we’re getting an average of 20 hours or less a week — some of us even making under 15 hours. It’s ridiculous and we want to get paid full-time,” Jo Lowry, who works in guest services at Casa Bonita, told Denver7 on Thursday.

In response, management said in a memo sent to staff Friday that the restaurant “deliberately opened in stages to refine the many complex aspects of the Casa Bonita experience,” adding that while they understood the frustration that came with the restaurant’s slow, gentle opening, they had been transparent with “the intent and rationale behind the pace.”

“We don’t want to make promises to customers or employees that we can’t keep,” the memo reads in part.

#WeAreTeamCasa told Denver7 that several employees, including former bartender Russ Lee, were fired last month following contract disputes. These included the introduction of a tipping ban in the restaurant, which meant switching to a flat wage of $30 an hour for waiters and bartenders, instead of the $14.27 an hour Casa Bonita had originally agreed to.

Lee told Denver7 that the flat-rate model meant a 40% to 50% pay cut without tipping waiters, while other workers who didn’t serve or bartend were making well under $30 an hour.

Casa Bonita responded to the employees’ list of demands in Friday’s employee announcement

Casa Bonita responded that the change in salary structure was because since the restaurant’s soft openings, customers have left “much lower tips than we expected.”

“Due to unexpected failures in tipping customers during soft openings, all employees experienced lower than expected revenue. That’s why we’ve moved to significantly higher hourly rates,” management wrote in Friday’s statement, adding that it remained focused on providing its employees with “a fair compensation and benefits package.”

Casa Bonita management said it is now able to make that happen as the eatery doubled its service from 1,148 customers a week to over 2,300 last week. Staff were told on Friday they expect that number to rise to over 2,600 by next week.

“While this is still a long way from the approximately 20,000 clients per week that we hope to serve, it is a major achievement as all of our employees now have the opportunity to work sufficient hours to receive full-time benefits,” the memo reads.

Management encouraged employees to share concerns with them directly and said they had multiple avenues to voice their opinions, both as individuals and as a collective.

“We intend to continue to experiment with changes, remodeling and enhancements as our evolving business and the lessons learned from it warrant,” the memo reads. “One thing is for sure, Casa Bonita will continue to evolve to provide future generations with a great place to work and the best guest experience.

Beginning Friday, Casa Bonita allowed only guests with a ticket to enter during a so-called “beta test phase” on the website at limited dinner times. It limited tickets to those on its email list.

The lunch service was listed as “coming soon” on the restaurant’s website.

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