Gourmet Heaven to close in 2015

This story has been updated to reflect the version published in print on Aug. 22, 2014. 

Gourmet Heaven will close both its Broadway and Whitney Avenue stores onJune 30, 2015.

Yale University announced the closing of the 24-hour grocery, which is housed in University-owned property, in an online story released through its Office of Public Affairs and Communications on Wednesday. The Broadway lease was set to expire in two years, but University Properties and Gourmet Heaven agreed that the lease will terminate in June 2015, Vice President for New Haven and State Affairs Bruce Alexander ’65 said in a Wednesday email to the News.

“This will give everyone, including the several dozen employees, time to adjust to this circumstance,” Alexander said, adding that UP will begin searching for a similar business to fill the space on Broadway.

The 24-hour deli has been a subject of controversy among students and New Haven residents since last August, when the Connecticut Department of Labor began investigating store owner Chung Cho for wage theft. Yale released a statement last fall condemning the injustice, but city officials as well as members of student social justice group MEChA criticized the University for not taking further action, particularly after Cho was arrestedtwice in February for a total of 52 charges related to wage theft.

MEChA moderator Evelyn Nuñez ‘15 has been meeting with Alexander since last fall to discuss the issue. She told the News in April that, based on her previous meetings, UP seemed receptive to taking steps to prevent another wage theft issue on its property.

Based on recent conversations with Alexander, Nuñez said she thinks the University decided to end the store’s lease next year because of the continued mistreatment of workers at Gourmet Heaven.

“Once officials took a moment to listen to the former and current workers, they couldn’t ignore the reality of what was happening,” said Nuñez, who led the student boycott against the popular deli. “With abuses happening throughout New Haven, it’s important that Yale is an advocate for better workplaces.”

Cho denied having any knowledge about the University’s decision to end its lease agreement next year. He declined to comment further about any communication with University Properties.

Last November, workers who came forward to the state Department of Labor (DOL) revealed that they were being paid wages as low as $4.44 an hour and were working 72-hour weeks without overtime pay.

“It really impacted me to hear [that Gourmet Heaven was going to close], after fighting for so long,” said a former worker involved in the movement who asked to remain anonymous. “We didn’t wish bad on anyone, but justice was long overdue.”

The two Gourmet Heaven employees working at the Broadway location on Wednesday evening also said that they were unaware of the stores’ upcoming closing. Adam Juarez, who has worked at Gourmet Heaven since it first opened in 2001, said that although student protesters last spring were pushing Yale to end its lease agreement with Gourmet Heaven, there had been no discussions about closing the store over the summer.

“I’m shocked to hear that the store is closing,” Juarez said. “We are the only food store open 24 hours in the area. Students come here for breakfast, snacks, coffee, everything. If we close, Yale is going to have to find another 24 hour deli.”

Of the 18 students interviewed, seven  said that they were happy that Yale decided to end the lease agreement with Gourmet Heaven given the mistreatment of workers, while eight said they were neutral on the subject and three said they were disappointed by the decision. 15 of the students interviewed said they would want a similar type of business to replace Gourmet Heaven, especially because two other Broadway eateries Educated Burgher and A-1 Pizza closed over the summer.

Cho operates a total of four Gourmet Heavens: two in New Haven and two in Providence, RI.

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