Hamdi, one of the recent success stories of Seattle’s restaurant scene, was accused of wage theft and other violations in a lawsuit filed in January, the Seattle Times reported on Friday.
The suit, a copy of which was provided to Eater Seattle by the plaintiffs’ attorney, was filed by four former employees of the Ballard Turkish spot. It alleges that owners Berk Güldal and Katrina Schult didn’t pay the plaintiffs overtime, didn’t provide legally mandated breaks, and took tips that should have gone to hourly workers.
Hamdi began as a wildly celebrated pop-up where Güldal would roast whole lambs over wood fires and serve perfectly cooked kebabs. When it opened a permanent location last November in Ballard, its available reservations booked out in just two hours. Though the restaurant attracted a wave of positive publicity both locally and nationally, Güldal and Schult closed it for a month starting on January 6, announcing on Instagram that they “are taking this time to do some deep cleaning and to reestablish some things.” Schult told the Times that a chef had left for family reasons and they needed to “get a stronger team.” (The suit was filed three days after the closure was announced.)
In an email to Eater Seattle, Güldal and Schult denied the allegations in the suit, saying that they provided breaks as well as a family meal to staff free of charge and gave Thanksgiving and New Years Eve bonuses to those who worked shifts that night. They claimed that when the restaurant launched, the plaintiffs agreed with the rest of the staff that the tip pool would be divided among everyone who worked at Hamdi, but admitted that they didn’t document this agreement in writing properly.
The lawyer for the plaintiffs told the Times that more facts in the case would come out in the discovery process. The owners have also retained counsel and appear to be fighting the suit.
“They are complaining that they were not happy with sharing the tips with everyone else,” Güldal and Schult say in their email. “In the beginning we voiced it to everyone that we are trying to break that wall between front and back, everyone will be in the tip pool.”
Update, March 13 5:15 p.m.: This post has been updated to clarify that Hamdi gave workers New Years Eve bonuses only if they worked that night.