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.
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.