Just four months before Gourmet Heaven’s lease is expected to be terminated, store employees say the 24-hour deli still has made no move to change locations and shut down.
Although University Properties announced five months ago that Gourmet Heaven will close its two locations on Broadway and Whitney at the end of June, all workers interviewed said they did not know if UP is certain to follow through on the closure. Adam Juarez, a long-time employee at Gourmet Heaven, said the two parties will be in talks within the next few weeks about the possibility of renewing the lease.
“It is up to Yale,” Juarez said. “If they say we go, we go. If they say we get a second chance, then we do.”
Juarez added that he hopes UP will recognize the value and convenience of the store to students. He said the store decided to remain open during the snowstorm two weeks ago to show UP that the store is one of the most reliable grocery stops for Yalies.
Still, Vice President for New Haven and State Affairs Bruce Alexander ’65 suggested that University Properties still plans to let the lease expire.
“We have announced that they will close,” Alexander wrote in an email to the News.
However, Alexander did not say who might fill the space on Broadway, adding, “We do not announce new tenants until we actually have a deal.”
Associate Vice President for University Properties and New Haven Affairs Lauren Zucker did not respond to two requests for comment.
In August, Alexander released a statement condemning labor violations at Gourmet Heaven. In the same statement, he added that University Properties would not renew the leases for Gourmet Heaven’s two locations. The Broadway lease was originally set to expire in 2016, but University Properties instead negotiated a 2015 termination.
Unidad Latina en Acción and Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán de Yale, organizations that both wrote letters and rallied last fall urging University Properties to close Gourmet Heaven because of workers’ rights violations, continue to push for UP to ensure their businesses uphold fair wage and labor practices.
Megan Fountain ’07, a volunteer organizer with the ULA, said representatives from ULA and MEChA met with Zucker and Alexander before University Properties released a statement announcing they would terminate Gourmet Heaven’s lease. Fountain said the two groups asked University Properties to work with them and the Department of Labor to create policies and standards for workers rights on properties leased from University Properties. Though they met once before the August announcement, the groups have not yet convened for a second meeting.
But University Properties did not follow-up on their requests, said Fountain.
Fountain underscored that the fines and penalties for failure to follow wage laws are not severe enough to incentivize employers into changing their business practices. She said additional enforcement by the University would help hold businesses accountable.
University Properties is not legally obligated to close Gourmet Heaven, said Fountain and James Bhandary-Alexander, a lawyer with New Haven Legal Assistance who represented Gourmet Heaven workers against store owner Chung Cho. Still, both Bhandary-Alexander and Fountain said University Properties’ final decision about whether to allow the store to remain open would send a message to the public about wage theft.
“The question of whether Gourmet Heaven stays in those locations is a question of whether Yale was serious when it said that it was holding that business accountable or whether Yale stays on that statement,” Bhandary-Alexander said.