Last Sunday, May 21, anyone who was on the email list for HoneyHole Sandwiches, a longtime Capitol Hill fixture, got a startling message. It accused the owner, Kristin Rye, of a wide range of misconduct. “She has made racist comments, taken people off of schedules with no regard for their safety or well-being, and retaliated against employees for calling out one time,” it read. “She has also put employees’ lives at risk by not putting in A/C during the summer nor adequate heating in the winter. Don’t support the HoneyHole, take a stand for workers and minorities.”
A couple of hours later, the email list got another message, with the subject line “We Were Hacked.” According to this message, the restaurant was having a tough day after a fridge failure forced it to throw out large quantities of food. It claimed that the previous email was the result of a disgruntled former employee, saying: “We have a manager who is no longer with us who felt that it was ok to hack into our marketing system and make some very personal and hurtful accusations.”
According to more than half a dozen former HoneyHole workers who have spoken with Eater Seattle since that first email was sent, the sandwich shop has been a chaotic and stressful workplace since Kristin Rye and their husband, Patrick, purchased it in 2021. These workers say that staff turnover was high because of Kristin’s management, an atmosphere of transphobia at the restaurant, and a pattern of paycheck irregularities that led staff to advise new hires that they should take photos of their time clock entries and check their pay stubs to make sure they weren’t being shorted.
“I’ve worked for or with more than two dozen companies in the last 10 years in 30 states and three countries,” says Cameron DeWitt Ruiz, who worked at HoneyHole from September 2021 to May 2022. “That was by far one of the most negative experiences I’ve had from management ever.”
In an email to Eater Seattle, Kristin admits that there had been high turnover but says that this is due to individual employee circumstances, the state of the restaurant industry as a whole, and an effort to improve management. Overall, Kristin described the experience owning HoneyHole as “living the dream” and referred to the initial email as “libel” to which they reacted with “horror, betrayal, and anger.” (Kristin’s email signature indicates that they use she/they pronouns.)
“In spite of all the drama this week our team remains intact,” they add. “Our current team members are hardworking professionals who want to show up, make excellent food, and stay out of the drama. We would like to do right by them and move forward to make that happen.”
The initial email included allegations that HoneyHole served moldy bread, but none of the former employees who spoke with Eater Seattle corroborated that claim. An inspection conducted this week by Public Health of Seattle and King County found no evidence of mold.
When the Ryes purchased HoneyHole from brothers Sean and Devon London in 2021, they were buying a beloved neighborhood restaurant known not just for its amazing sandwiches but its funky Cap Hill vibes. Under the new management, in 2021 it opened a new Central District location that had a large area for sit-down dining. In a video interview with Puget Sound Business Journal, Kristin, who previously owned a heritage chicken farm, admitted that they were new to the restaurant industry but seemed confident in their abilities. “My background is in finance and watching the bottom line,” they said. “In that way I feel very well equipped to run the business end of the restaurant.”
But former employees say that Kristin’s mismanagement caused repeated problems. One issue was their alleged insensitivity toward LGBTQ people — perceived to be a major problem as the surrounding neighborhood is the hub of LGBTQ life in Seattle, and as there were queer and trans people on staff.
“[Kristin and I] were constantly talking about her dialogue in how she addressed and talked about people, specifically queer and trans people,” says DeWitt Ruiz, who uses they/them pronouns. For instance, they say that Kristin would refer to trans people as “transsexuals” or “transvestites” and was slow to change the gendered bathroom signs, which bothered one trans worker so much that she quit. Kristin allegedly repeatedly misgendered trans and nonbinary members of the staff, including DeWitt Ruiz themself. They say they quit after becoming fed up with their attitude toward LGBTQ issues; the final straw was an incident where DeWitt Ruiz heard from another employee that Kristin had made dismissive comments about DeWitt’s gender identity, an account DeWitt believed because of Kristin’s past comments.
Multiple former employees say that one manager hired by Kristin would misgender staff and referred to one queer male worker as “Cinderella.” Kristin tells Eater Seattle that that manager was only employed for two months and was fired for repeatedly using incorrect pronouns.
Kristin allegedly made other comments as well, former employees said. Two former employees recall that Kristin “regularly” made jokes about ordering drone strikes on workers who pissed them off. Brandi Quinn, a manager who worked at HoneyHole from spring 2022 until the following winter, says that in one case, Kristin called a worker “stupid” to her face, bringing the worker to tears. (Kristin denies saying these things.)
Another complaint in the email, which former employees corroborated in interviews with Eater Seattle, was that the kitchen was too hot in the summer and lacked adequate heating in the winter. “My staff is coming in with layers of clothes on, wearing their jackets while they’re in the kitchen,” Quinn says. “She just didn’t care. She only cared about profit.”
“Kitchens can get hot. When it is unsafe, we close,” Kristin says, citing a day this month when HoneyHole closed from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. due to the heat and humidity. “We are always balancing the physical health and safety of our team against their financial health.”
But the most common complaint was that Kristin would allegedly pay people late or short them on their paychecks, paying them what they were owed only after they discovered the discrepancies and brought them to Kristin’s attention. According to employee accounts, workers were told that they would get at least $6 an hour on top of their hourly wage from the tip pool, but there was widespread suspicion that not all the tips were distributed. “I would do the math on some of my paychecks and it never, ever ended up more than $6 an hour, regardless of how busy we were,” says one former manager, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear that speaking out would damage his future employment prospects. At one point, this manager says, he waited several weeks for $400 that he was owed; eventually Kristin sent him a payment on Venmo, a transaction for which he provided documentation to Eater. Another former employee says that he was paid back wages via check.
Multiple managers say they dealt with frequent complaints from employees who thought their paychecks didn’t reflect their hours worked. DeWitt Ruiz says that some workers were nervous about complaining to Kristin because they feared that their hours would be cut. “Anytime somebody brought up something that was a question mark, whether it was their pay, or their hours, or even bathroom signs... the response would be, ‘Well, everyone’s replaceable,’ and she would take people off schedule,” says DeWitt Ruiz.
Some former employees were sympathetic toward Kristin because the owner didn’t have restaurant experience, but after some time stopped giving them the benefit of the doubt when it came to pay irregularities. “As much as I knew she was doing things because I think she was overwhelmed, I think she got to a place where she was more, like, playing stupid about things,” says Quinn, “and just acting like she didn’t know that it was wrong.”
When asked if they were aware of these complaints and what her response had been to any employees asking about their paychecks, Kristin says, “Any employee who has a payroll question should reach out to me directly. We always make it right... Complaints and scheduled hours are unrelated.”
A review of records from Labor & Industries, the state agency that investigates wage theft claims, shows that six such claims were submitted by employees in the past two years, two of which remain open and four of which were resolved either by HoneyHole paying the missing wages or the employee withdrawing their claim. (Kristin says she is aware of two Labor & Industries investigations, both of which were resolved.)
Quinn and another former employee, Alex Potebnya, who worked at HoneyHole for about a year beginning in September 2021, both say that their most recent W-2 misstated their wages by thousands of dollars. They both contacted Kristin about these errors. Kristin tells Eater that they are aware of two former employees who reached out about W-2 errors, but claims that in both cases there was no error on HoneyHole’s part, in one case because the former employee “had two paycheck profiles and received two W-2s adding up to their correct compensation.”
The pay irregularities led to many staff members quitting in frustration, sometimes after only days or weeks and sometimes in the middle of shifts. Former employees complained that the turnover meant there were constantly new people who had to be trained. Two months ago the Jefferson location closed with no explanation; Quinn says she believes that was because too many people had quit. “I was told from staff that were still working there [that the closure] was because she couldn’t handle running both locations by herself and she didn’t have enough staff either.” (Kristin says that it closed so they could “focus on staff turnover, leadership, as well as personal work life balance.”)
Though the former employees had almost uniformly negative things to say about their time at HoneyHole, many of them said that they stayed for longer than they might have because of the customers and their coworkers, who they have formed bonds with despite — or because of — their problems with management.
“I just ran into this [former employee] the other day,” says Quinn. “He gave me a hug and he was like, you know I am so happy you’re happy now, and I would love to work for you again; I would work for you in a heartbeat. I was like, you know what? I would hire you in a heartbeat.”
“I’ve never had a better team of people to work with,” says Potebnya. “Outside of the owner, obviously.”