August 23rd, 2013 | City

Protestors ask students to boycott Gourmet Heaven

Roughly 25 protesters brandished signs condemning Gourmet Heaven's alleged wage theft in a demonstration organized by the New Haven Workers Association.
Roughly 25 protesters brandished signs condemning Gourmet Heaven's alleged wage theft in a demonstration organized by the New Haven Workers Association. Photo by Isaac Stanley-Becker .

As campus swarmed on Friday for freshman move-in day, protestors gathered on Broadway Avenue outside of Gourmet Heaven to ask students to boycott the popular late-night food destination under investigation for a slew of workplace violations.

In a demonstration organized by the New Haven Workers Association, roughly 25 protesters brandished signs condemning the establishment’s alleged wage theft and chanted as they circled the entrance of the combined convenience store and restaurant.

The Connecticut Department of Labor issued a stop work order for both Gourmet Heaven locations in New Haven — the site of Friday’s protest and its counterpart on Whitney Avenue — and could slap the establishment with tens of thousands of dollars in fines should an ongoing state probe find that workers were paid below the minimum wage and denied overtime compensation.

Employees at both establishments have been misclassified as independent contractors and therefore denied their rightful wages, according to a labor department press statement released in early August.

Chung H. Cho, the owner of Gourmet Heaven and a resident of Woodbridge, could not be reached for comment Friday. Clerks at the store said they were asked not to speak about the investigation.

Megan Fountain, the protest’s organizer, said the reason the state had to issue stop work orders was because Cho was not complying with the Labor Department’s investigation.

“We want the owner to fully cooperate with the investigation and to stop intimidating his workers and telling them to fabricate evidence for him,” Fountain said.

She said she has tried to reach out to Cho “many times” but that “he has never shown his face.”

“This deli and grocer is right in the heart of the Yale campus,” she said, adding that the protest was inspired in part by Yale students who reached out to city activists asking how they could get involved.

Evelyn Nunez ’14, a leader of the Chicano student organization MEChA, was one of a number of protesters to address the crowd, charging that Gourmet Heaven has exploited its workers by forcing them to work 72-hour weeks while paying them less than $4 an hour.

“Students are standing in solidarity with the workers,” Nunez said. “Yale students should say no to G-Heav.”

Gourmet Heaven, like many of the commercial establishments on Broadway, functions as a tenant in what is Yale-owned real estate managed by University Properties.

Spokespeople for the University could not be reached as of Friday night for comment as to Yale’s stance on the alleged infractions.

Barbara Fair, a community activist and leader of My Brother’s Keeper, said the alleged infractions were another example of “injustice going on right on this block.” Fair helped organize a rally outside of Toad’s Place in early August to protest the night club’s hosting of right-wing rock musician Ted Nugent.

Protesters said they will return every Friday at 4 p.m. until the investigation concludes.