Casa Bonita responds to employees’ list of demands, says they want restaurant to reopen ‘well, not fast’

#WeAreTeamCasa's demands include clarity from management on the restaurant’s hours of operation as well as health benefits for employees
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Posted at 9:00 PM, Jul 21, 2023

DENVER – Casa Bonita responded Friday to a list of demands from some of its employees centered around better working conditions and compensation, saying they want the iconic Colorado landmark to open “well, not fast.”

The demands from #WeAreTeamCasa, a group of about 50 Casa Bonita employees, include clarity from management on the restaurant’s hours of operation and health benefits, as well as transparency from ownership and “a voice in the workplace.”

The collective said in a statement Wednesday they were originally promised benefits, but many haven’t met the threshold of worked hours to qualify for these benefits as there has been “no clear pathway to being open seven days a week.” The restaurant has only been operating Thursday through Saturday since its reopening last month.

“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,” Jo Lowry, who works in guest services at Casa Bonita, told Denver7 Thursday.

In response, management said in a memo sent to staff Friday that the restaurant has been “intentional about opening gradually in order to refine the many complex aspects of the Casa Bonita experience,” adding that while they understand the frustration that has accompanied the restaurant’s slow, soft opening, they have been transparent about “the intention and reasons behind the pacing.”

“We do not want to make promises to customers or staff that we cannot fulfill,” the memo reads, in part.

#WeAreTeamCasa told Denver7 several employees, including former bartender Russ Lee, were let go after contract disputes last month. Among them was the adoption of a no-tipping policy at the restaurant, which meant a switch to a flat wage of $30 per hour for servers and bartenders, rather than the $14.27 per hour that Casa Bonita originally agreed to.

Lee told Denver7 that flat rate model meant a pay cut of 40 to 50% without tips for servers, while other workers not serving or bartending made well under $30 per hour.

Casa Bonita responds to employees’ list of demands in staff memo Friday

Casa Bonita, in response, said the change in salary structure was due to customers “leaving tips that were much lower than we expected” since the restaurant’s soft openings.

“With the unanticipated shortfalls in customer tipping during the soft openings, all staff were experiencing lower income than expected. That is why we moved to substantially enhanced hourly rates,” management wrote in Friday’s memo, adding they remained focused on providing their staff “with a fair compensation and benefits package.”

Something Casa Bonita management said they were now able to deliver on, as the eatery has doubled their service from 1,148 customers a week to over 2,300 last week. Staff were told Friday they expected that number to grow to over 2,600 by next week.

“While this is still a long way from the around 20,000 customers a week we hope to serve, it is a major achievement, as all of our staff have now been given the opportunity to work sufficient hours to have full-time benefits,” the memo reads.

Management encouraged employees to share concerns directly with them, and said they had multiple venues to express opinions, both as individuals and as a collective.

“We intend to continue to experiment with changes, alterations, and improvements as dictated by our evolving business and the lessons we learn,” the memo states. “One thing that’s certain is that Casa Bonita will keep evolving to continue providing a great place to work and the best guest experience for generations to come.

As of Friday, Casa Bonita was only allowing ticketed guests inside for limited dinner hours in what its website called a “beta-testing” phase. It was limiting tickets to those who were on its email list.

Lunch service was listed as “coming soon” on the restaurant’s website.

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