Alex Schmeling

Roughly 20 protesters demonstrated outside of Thai Taste late Thursday evening, claiming wage theft and calling on pedestrians to boycott the restaurant.

Local activists from Unidad Latina en Accion, a New Haven-based immigrants’ rights organization, stood outside the Chapel Street restaurant holding signs and distributing flyers. The protesters accused Roger Jaruch, who owns both Thai Taste and Rice Pot on State Street, of stealing more than $37,000 in wages from Rafael Alvarez and Eufrasio Roblero, two former Rice Pot employees. According to Jaruch, who denies all accusations of wage theft, Thursday’s protest was the fourth in recent weeks. A Thai Taste employee who asked to remain anonymous said she called the police Thursday evening after observing that ULA protesters were blocking the sidewalk and disrupting customers.

“The times that we are busy, they just show up,” Jaruch said. “They should bring this to court and fight this in court. I can prove them wrong there.”

Two New Haven police officers were dispatched to Thai Taste, and an additional two officers stopped at the scene after noticing commotion while driving by. One of the officers, who asked to remain anonymous because the New Haven Police Department asks that officers not speak to the press, said that while the ULA organizers are free to protest outside Thai Taste, it is illegal for them to block the sidewalk or the restaurant entrance. The officer added that the protesters are also not allowed to enter the establishment.

The Thai Taste employee who wished to remain anonymous said the protesters had come inside the restaurant during each of the previous three demonstrations.

Marcos Rodriguez, a ULA organizer, led last night’s protest, using a megaphone to lead chants of “Boycott Thai Taste!”

“[Jaruch] pays very, very low wages,” Rodriguez said. “He paid $400 dollars for 60 hours of work, so now ex-employees are claiming their money.”

Over the summer, Jaruch received three notices from ULA, the most recent of which was dated Aug. 5. The notices, obtained by the News, claimed that Jaruch owed Alvarez, a cook at Rice Pot, more than $16,000 in unpaid wages; it also said Jaruch owed more than $19,000 to Roblero, a dishwasher at the same restaurant. Each notice warned that if Jaruch did not mail checks with the specified amounts to ULA’s headquarters on Howe Street, the organization would file complaints with the Connecticut Department of Labor.

Jaruch said he does not know why the protesters are choosing to demonstrate outside Thai Taste even though both Alvarez and Roblero are former Rice Pot employees. He speculated that Thai Taste’s more central location may have been a factor, as Rice Pot is located in East Rock.

Jaruch added that he believes Alvarez is claiming wage theft to acquire funds to pay off existing hospital bills.

“He just needs the money,” Jaruch said. “That’s all.”

Neither Alvarez nor Roblero were present at Thursday’s protest, and they could not be reached for comment following the protest.

Before leaving the scene at roughly 8:30 p.m., the officers advised Jaruch and the Thai Taste employee, who was noticeably distraught, to call them if the demonstrators violate any laws surrounding protests in the future.