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Casa Bonita employees call reopening a 'masterclass in how not to open a restaurant'

Posted at 4:59 PM, Jul 20, 2023
and last updated 2023-07-21 20:02:29-04

LAKEWOOD, Colo. — A day after 50 Casa Bonita employees issued a letter of workplace and compensation demands to ownership and management, Denver7 met with several members of the #WeAreTeamCasa group. The workers said they still have no clarity on when the restaurant will fully open to the public, and many are struggling to make ends meet without the full-time pay and benefits they were expecting.

“We were hired for full-time, 40 hours a week, but what we’re getting is 20 hours or less each week on average — even some of us are making less than 15 hours. It’s ridiculous, and we want to be paid full-time,” said Jo Lowry, who works in guest services at Casa Bonita. “Now I have to choose between paying my rent, my car payment, or my car insurance. And I shouldn’t have to have to choose between those three essential things.”


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Casa Bonita employees send list of demands to ownership after 'bait-and-switch'

Landon Haaf
7:52 PM, Jul 19, 2023

#WeAreTeamCasa told Denver7 several employees, including former bartender Russ Lee, were let go after contract disputes last month. Management switched servers and bartenders to a flat wage of $30 per hour, they said, rather than $14.27 per hour with tips, which they initially agreed to.

Lee said the flat rate model amounts to an effective pay cut of 40 to 50 percent without tips, while other workers not serving or bartending are making well under $30 per hour.

"This is truly a masterclass in how not to open a restaurant,” Lee said. “It really is. I’ve opened several restaurants over the course of my career, and this is by far the most poorly run one I’ve ever seen.”

Denver7 reached out to management at Casa Bonita about the employees’ concerns and demands, and were told in a statement they would make themselves available “to discuss their concerns."

Casa Bonita strives to create the best working environment for its employees. This includes implementing the best compensation structure for all employees—not just a few. To the extent some employees have concerns about our policies, we will continue to make ourselves available to discuss their concerns, individually or as a group.

Employees with #WeAreTeamCasa said they have not felt heard or understood by management and ownership, and only decided to go public with their complaints after team conversations reached dead-ends. They have created an online petition, hoping to garner public support for their requests.

Each of the employees told us they chose to work at Casa Bonita to be a part of an iconic Colorado landmark, and they still hope to make amends and make the restaurant great.

“Matt [Stone] and Trey [Parker] did a wonderful job renovating the place,” said bartender Michelle Mendenhall. “It is gorgeous. It’s fun. It’s wonky and weird. It’s crazy. And it’s a really great experience for guests who come in the door. And we’re really happy to be the faces of that, and you know, the conduits of good service and good food. We’re very happy to do that. But we need compensation for that.”

“I’ll be more than happy to show it off, at full capacity, seven days a week with lucrative operating hours,” added bartender Gayle Durr. “We’re ready.”

Denver7 asked Casa Bonita management if there is a planned date to fully reopen the restaurant to the public, but a spokesperson said they didn’t have an answer for us “at the moment.”

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