The owner of Tiny Diner, Barbette, Pat's Tap, Red Stag Supperclub and other local eateries is under investigation following reports of withheld wages.
Employees of Bartmann Group, which is led by Kim Bartmann, say they haven't been paid for the work they did the week before the coronavirus forced their restaurants to close.
They've now launched a petition demanding Bartmann pay them the wages and tips they're owed. It says the restaurateur notified them by email that their paychecks "would not be available," and that "a time and date when these checks would be made available was not given."
On Friday, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison announced that he's asking Bartmann to turn over financial documents relating to the controversy, according to a statement from his office.
The statement gives her until April 3 to respond.
In an interview with City Pages on Monday, Bartmann said her restaurants had been "struggling," but that things were "going a lot better than they had in a while" until the coronavirus slammed the local restaurant industry.
"I don't know what I can tell you for a soundbite," she told the publication. "It's a complicated and emotional situation."
The email that set this off has been leaked to Twitter; in it, Bartmann says she "shouldn't have been running things so close to the edge":
"The average small business has about 16 days of liquidity; this time of year, I have about 5," she writes, adding that "those days got eaten up by the coronavirus and a sudden, steep drop in sales over the weekend, which usually pays our payroll."
She also writes that she's doing "everything humanly possible to make it right," including applying for small business disaster loans, pursuing catering contracts and selling gift cards to make up for the shortfall.
But according to the Star Tribune, employees of one Bartmann restaurant, Tiny Diner, say "the idea that sales were down because of the virus doesn’t ring true," as there was plenty of business at the eatery before it closed.
“At the very least, she should have been able to pay us our tip money,” one worker told the paper.
The petition organized by the employees, which has garnered nearly all of the 3,000 signatures it set out for, says this constitutes wage theft.
The Bartmann Groups owns nine operations in all; seven restaurants, a wine bar and Bread & Pickle, the concession stand at Lake Harriet.