Domino’s order dooms Pure Food owner

Sarma Melngailis

Sarma Melngailis

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Police in Sevierville, Tennessee arrested former Pure Food and Wine owner Sarma Melngailis, 43, and her husband, Anthony Strangis, 35, on charges of grand larceny, wage theft, tax fraud and labor law violations on May 10. Gothamist reported that the pair was busted because of a Domino’s delivery order, a surprising meal choice for the former owner of a high-end vegan restaurant, although Melngailis has since said, in a “jailhouse interview” with the Post, that the pizza was actually for her husband.

The couple was incarcerated at Rikers Island on Wednesday, May 18 after being extradited from Tennessee. Melngailis made bail the following Tuesday on a $250,000 bond, while Strangis is still at Rikers on a $300,000 bond.

Melngailis and Strangis had been on the run since last July, when workers walked out of the restaurant on Irving Place because they hadn’t been paid for weeks, forcing the business to close for good last summer. This was following a prior closure at the beginning of last year, also due to workers reportedly not being paid.

Although Pure Food and Wine and the One Lucky Duck juice bar were located in Manhattan, the Brooklyn District Attorney is prosecuting the pair because Melngailis ran the companies from an office in Bedford-Stuyvesant as one interconnected enterprise.

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Pure Food and Wine workers rally for missing pay – again

Workers lined up outside the restaurant last Thursday, saying they’re missing back pay while the owner is nowhere to be found. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

Workers lined up outside the restaurant last Thursday, saying they’re missing back pay while the owner is nowhere to be found. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Pure Food and Wine owner Sarma Melngailis has mastered the art of “ghosting.”

The slang term has come to refer to one half of a romantic couple that breaks off the relationship by disappearing with no explanation, turning into a “ghost.” But while the practice is seen as rude and disrespectful in those cases, in Melngailis’s case it includes alleged wage theft.

The owner of the raw food restaurant on Irving Place vanished once before, with employees saying that she had not paid them for almost a month at the beginning of the year. Employees said at the time that no one had been able to contact Melngailis and when workers held a rally outside the restaurant last Thursday with some not being paid for the last two weeks, the owner and raw food mogul was similarly missing. Bartender and representative for the employees’ newly-formed union Kevin Woods said on Monday that she hasn’t even been in touch with her lawyer recently.

Town & Village reported at the beginning of the year that workers at the restaurant sued Melngailis because of the missed wages in January but this is actually the third time the restaurant has missed payroll. Woods said that the first time was during a month last summer but none of the workers went public with the information at that point. Bartender Daniel Schubmehl said they had communication from Melngailis that it was a bank issue and were assured it would be fine. Gothamist noted that the employees ended up being paid gradually from the restaurant’s petty cash and there were no more payroll problems until the issues in the winter.

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Pure Food & Wine employees suing over unpaid wages

Workers rally in front of their workplace last week.

Workers rally in front of their workplace last week.

By Sabina Mollot

It’s the mystery of the disappearing restaurant owner.

The owner of Pure Food & Wine, an upscale vegan restaurant on Irving Place, as well as two local juice bars, has been stiffing her employees for nearly a month, employees said, and on top of that — she can’t be reached by anyone.

The restaurant’s owner and founder, Sarma Melngaillis, has been out of town, supposedly traveling for business. Employees also said last week they haven’t had any contact from anyone from management. That would be an LLC owned by China Grill Management as well as shareholders.

Melngaillis also didn’t respond to T&V’s emailed requests for comment. Calls to the various business locations (including the juice bars, one in Gramercy, the other in Chelsea), went unanswered due to no one staffing the places.

“The owner has not communicated with anyone,” said Allie Coltelli, a line cook. “They’re ghosts. It’s very suspicious.”

Last week, Coltelli, along with one of her coworkers, hired an attorney, and on Tuesday, he filed a lawsuit.

Employees have been told they’re finally getting paid this week, but Coltelli doubts it.

“I’m 99 percent certain that’s not going to happen.”

Additionally, along with wages — which were last paid in late December with checks that bounced — tips for the servers have also not been paid. Tips are pooled and paid evenly to front-house employees with each two-week pay-cycle. The company’s bills have also not been paid nor has the rent, and Coltelli said she heard the restaurant “may be shuttered as early as this week.”

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