When Mario’s closed last month, hundreds of loyal customers lost a lot: A favorite restaurant. A meeting place. Tradition.
Over 50 employees lost something much harder to replace: Their jobs.
The story of how that happened is coming out now. It’s not pretty.
A former employee emailed me some details. Others who worked at Mario’s agreed with what the worker said.
Mario’s, the day after closing. (Photo/Gene Borio)
According to the email, on April 16 — 12 days after the restaurant served its last meal — a handful of employees were invited to meet new owner Vincente Siguenza to talk about employment. The meeting was set for 9 to 11 a.m.
“The place was cold and dark, with no heat,” the email says. Siguenza did not appear. The former employees thought it might have been a test of their interest.
He finally arrived at 11. “He casually walked into the side room, where everyone was sitting anxiously. It was almost like the first day of school, meeting your new teacher,” the email says.
The meeting lasted 15 minutes. “He stated (while looking at his phone the entire time) he did not know what they were going to do in regards to staying closed or reopening. In so many words, he stated that if they go forward with Harvest” — the new restaurant in the old place — “no Mario’s employees would be hired.”
Dinner was packed, before Mario’s closed.
Siguenza told employees to leave their resumes. Only one person had one. “In this business, with the longevity most of us have, it’s word of mouth,” the email writer notes. “One person stood up and said, ’35 years at Mario’s is my resume.'”
Two longtime employees “stormed out,” the email writer says. Siguenza “had the rest stand in line like cattle to sign our names and contact info on the back of the one resume.” Two days later, the writer says, the resume still sat there.
“Many of these employees supported their entire family on their earnings from Mario’s,” the email says.
After that meeting, the writer adds, “the remaining employees huddled outside on the sidewalk, and hugged and cried.”
Three employees have since found work at 323 Restaurant. The others have not been so fortunate.
I called Siguenza this afternoon, to get his side of the story. He began by saying, “I’m not ready to open up. I’m still looking at getting the building into compliance.” He had been hoping to reopen — with the name Mario’s — around Mother’s Day. After 5 or 6 months, Mario’s will transition into Harvest Wine Bar –similar to Siguenza’s restaurant of the same name in Greenwich. Harvest offers modern American custom cuisine with Asian, Latin and Mediterranean influences, plus an extensive wine list.
Harvest Wine Bar & Restaurant in Greenwich. (Photo collage/CTBites.com)
“I have no employees yet,” he said.
I asked directly: “Will you hire any former employees?”
“I don’t know if I can hire any of them,” he said. Then he paused.
“No specific reason,” he said. “I have to put the new staff through training at my other restaurants.”
I asked again: If he’s reopening as Mario’s, why not hire Mario’s staff?
“It’s not that I don’t want them. I’d never say that,” Siguenza said.
“But this is Mario’s in name only. It’s not the same service or menu or wine list. It’s completely different. The only thing remaining is the name.”
He added, “The kitchen staff before was used to one style of cooking. This is completely different. They need a new type of training.”
So why is he reopening as Mario’s — but not Mario’s, really — and then closing after a few months to renovate, before reopening once again as Harvest?
“It will take a while to get all the approvals” for Harvest from Planning & Zoning, the Building Department and others, he said. He plans to work on the paperwork now, while operating as Mario’s. Once his permits are in hand, he’ll begin renovations.
Former employees plan a rally — with, they hope, “many loyal customers” — on opening day of the “New Mario’s.”