Despite a change in ownership, Good Nature Market, formerly known as Gourmet Heaven, continues to be the target of protests.
On March 13, the two Gourmet Heaven stores on 15 Broadway and 55 Whitney Ave. changed ownership overnight from Chung Cho to Sun Yup Kim, a grocer from New York City. Good Nature Market will maintain the same operating hours and continue to employ most of the same workers as the previous Gourmet Heaven. Kim will, however, implement multiple renovations over the next few months and completely change the menu and product selection, said Joel Kim, a manager at Good Nature Market.
“I don’t know how long the renovations will take. We’re going to change the seating tables, the hot-food table, also we have a deli case,” Kim said. “Good Nature Market will be 100 percent totally different, not any more Gourmet Heaven.”
Despite the change in ownership, members of the local social justice group Unidad Latina en Accion staged a labor rights protest in front of Good Nature Market on Monday afternoon. Megan Fountain ’07, a volunteer organizer at ULA, said the organization wants Yale University Properties — which owns both Good Nature Market properties — to take greater responsibility in protecting workers’ rights. Gourmet Heaven’s previous owner still owes his former-workers $120,000 in unpaid wages, according to Fountain. Cho was first arrested in February 2014 for 21 counts of felony wage theft and 20 misdemeanor counts of defrauding immigrant workers.
“Mr. Chung Cho thinks that he may avoid legal responsibility by putting the business under new management, and Yale University thinks they can sweep this under the rug. Don’t be fooled,” said ULA leader John Lugo in a press release before the protest.
Lauren Zucker, associate vice president for New Haven Affairs and University Properties, however, wrote in an email to the News on Saturday that the State of Connecticut Department of Labor, not UP, is responsible for making sure that businesses are complying with state law and treating workers fairly.
Unlike previous protests staged by ULA that have not garnered a response from the University, a representative from UP addressed the crowd during Monday’s protest. In the middle of the protest, Patrick O’Brien, marketing coordinator for University Properties, walked out of Good Nature Market and spoke to the protestors. Kim, an honored and award-winning grocer, will run the business legally and is an upstanding citizen, O’Brien said, the New Haven Independent reported.
Zucker and Community Affairs Associate Karen King will meet with members of social justice student group MEChA de Yale this Friday, said co-coordinator for MEChA Ava Tomasula y Garcia ’17.
At the meeting, which MEChA and UP scheduled a month ago, MEChA will ask to see UP’s lease with Good Nature Market, Tomasula y Garcia said. She added that the lease must include language about the repercussions for labor law violations in order to discourage Good Nature Market from creating a business model that relies on wage theft. She added that the DOL regulations are not sufficient to ensure workers’ rights — even workers who win wage theft cases only receive a fraction of their unpaid wages.
“The point about workers not getting paid is super important because it is a microcosm of wage theft violations throughout the country,” said Tomasula y Garcia. “All of the private actors that are very much a part of the equation are able to wash their hands of the matter. It’s only setting a precedent that wage theft can happen and you can get away with it.”
As for Good Nature Market, both Sun Yup Kim and Joel Kim said they will continue making the planned renovations and not respond to the protests.
“I’m trying to work together with the workers like a family. Give more service to the customer and the laborers,” Sun Yup Kim said.
Kim is a member and former chair of the Korean-American Grocers Association of New York.