Despite Closing, There’s Plenty Cooking At Mario’s

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)

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.

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)

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.

“Probably not.”

Why not?

“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.”

Mario's matchesSo 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.”

62 responses to “Despite Closing, There’s Plenty Cooking At Mario’s

  1. january stewart

    Why would the new owner set this meeting,and have people sitting around waiting for him, when it seems like he wants to hire an all-new staff? Why do that to them? That’s so rude.

    • Bethryn Rogers

      This is the new Westport, entilment and disgregard for most. The old great Westport that we all new and loved is almost completely gone. This isn’t how we treat people and it shouldn’t be the type of establishment we support. Its very sad. Cant wait to say goodbye to the new Westport. We were lucky to have our Westport as long as we did.

  2. Robin Scarella

    Sucks but not surprising unfortunately. I know John at Village Bagels needs staff Maybe can help?

  3. Nancy Powers Conklin

    Sounds like a bait and switch to me. He sure doesn’t seem to be the type of person who can work with or handle people. Westport does not need owners/restauranteurs like that!

  4. Sallie Bridgwater

    Marios has a tradition that goes back to the ’50’s or more. What a shame

    In His name

    Sent from my IPad

  5. Shawn Webb

    This story seems so strange and so sad. It will be interesting to see what happens to this place in the future.

  6. Cold hearted is all I can say !! Can’t believe such a lack of respect for these incredibly loyal employees. I won’t ever step foot in this restaurant. I used to love it and remember such dear memories including Tommy who was loved by so many. Another part of disappearing Westport .

  7. Bobbie Herman

    I predict that “Harvest” will last six months, or less. Word of mouth travels fast.

  8. This guy seems like a douchebag. Westport should have classified Marios as a Westport Historical Landmark.

  9. Alida Engel

    I guess I will be boycotting Harvest in New Haven…LIdy Engel

  10. Rebecca Guerrero

    This is heart breaking! As a former employee of Marios, I feel terrible for all my friends who lost their jobs. I wish there was something that I could do to help them all. Many of them dedicated their lives to Marios and to have this happen to them is extraordinarily upsetting.

    All I know is now, based on this article, I will not be a patron at the new “Marios” or at any of Mr. Siguenzas restaurants, for that matter.

  11. Nina Streitfeld

    I will remember the new owner’s’ lack of respect for Mario’s employees by not patronizing his restaurant.
    Nina Streitfeld

  12. Wanda Tedesco

    I will not be patronizing no matter what he decides to call it. I hope the remaining Mario’s employees find employment soon.

  13. Lindsay Garakelian

    Why even call this meeting? You see an obviously dedicated staff who is ready to work, why not invest in them? And what makes him think that he can just waltz into a Westport institution and continue its success? He sounds like a jerk. Good luck in Westport, Vinny.

  14. Stan Stringer Sr.

    I will never enter any restaurant owned by Siguenza, and shame on the previous owners for their actions……..you took away a part of Westport that you didn’t have to.

  15. Trish Yearling

    The new owner seems like a dick. What is the point of opening Mario’s again after being closed so long. This new owner doesn’t seem to know a thing – you don’t treat people like this.

    He should just forget Mario’s as no one will ever return, and open Harvest for the year it will probably last then go back to his other restaurants in the other towns and leave Westport to the pros.

  16. Byron Miller

    I will not be eating there. Why support such casual, insensitivity and meanness?

  17. At the very least, the new owner sounds like someone who doesn’t know the basics of common courtesy.

    But, there seems to be a potentially bigger issue here. Why is he summarily being so dismissive of Mario’s staff? I would be curious to know the age demographics of the waiters/waitresses at his other restaurants. If the staff is relatively young–and what’s going on here is that he really doesn’t want older waiters–well this may boil down to an issue of age discrimination.

    If this has to do with a bona fide occupational qualification–in this instance, knowledge of a variety of wines (and perhaps his Harvest wine list is that much more extensive than what existed at Mario’s)–it would seem to me he should, in theory, still be making a legitimate effort to ascertain what the former employees of Mario’s know (and, to whatever extent his restaurant provides training in this regard, the former employees of Mario’s seemingly would be entitied to a shot at that).

    Perhaps they should consult a lawyer.

  18. Miriam Magri

    What a bunch of bunk! people went there for the service, the food, AND, the employees, if he wants the business, & Mario’s was not short of business in Westport, he will re-hire the same help which made that Restaurant! What a Svengali… hope he ends up with an empty Restaurant!

  19. Bill Whitbeck

    Originally from Norwalk, I have lived in Seattle for over 30 years. During those years, every time I came back to visit my old neighborhood, I went to Mario’s. I will never set foot in that building again.

  20. Jamie Walsh

    The new owner sounds like a clown… Instead of Harvest…let’s plant seeds in new and existing Westport dining establishments. Anyone who does not value the time of others…no matter if it is the pots and pans dishwasher… Is a clown. Hope this new owners Harvest is a famine and not a feast!

  21. Steve Mann

    I agree that this sounds strange that the new owner would call a meeting and have no intention of hiring back people, but, maybe I’m missing something? My question is, what does a new owner owe past employees no matter how long they’ve worked there? Why isn’t the past ownership being taken to task for not providing severance, or retirement plan? I just think it’s unreasonable for anyone to think that a new owner should be linked to the past staff in perpetuity. Again, maybe I’m missing something.

  22. This is so lame. I really liked Harvest in Greenwich, and was looking forward to having one so close. But after this, I will pass on spending my money and time at any of Mr. Siguenza’s restaurants. His behavior is so totally disrespectful of the prior employees time and experience. What a jerk.

  23. One other thing: where is the former owner in all of this? The former proprietor of Mario’s still owns the building and entered into a lucrative lease–is my understanding about that correct? If that is the case, it seems the proprietor could have provided for the long-time employees in some fashion. The owner could have put some stipulation in the lease re the rehiring of some employees. Alternatively, knowing there was at least a decent chance these employees would be out of a job, the proprietor could have paid some kind of severance package linked to years of service. Perhaps something like that did happen. I would be curious to know.

  24. Steve M, I didn’t see your post because I was writing mine in the interim. In any case, as you can see, I’m on board with you.

  25. Steve Mann

    Thanks Fred. These situations are never easy. Typically, in bigger business, the seller will inform staff of intentions (but I guess we all knew about the pending sale, so I assume the staff did too) and then offer a “stay bonus” so that the staff doesn’t leave before the official closing date. That serves to maintain revenue (and wages and tips) until the closing is official. During that time, it would behoove the staff to seek alternative employment. If they were promised a job at the new place, then the old owners are more culpable than anyone. If not, (and even if they were) and it was me, I’d have been looking for another job long before this erupted.

    In essence, Mario’s has closed, and a totally new business is going into the space. Mario’s was not sold, and therefore the new owner is not compelled to consider holding onto staff. While it’s regrettable that friends, relatives, and neighbors are out of work after all their time served, this is life.

    • Trish Yearling

      Marios was sold, it did not close. The new owners are acting like it closed after paying hundreds of thousands of dollars for a business they shuttered and don’t understand how to re-open. I have been to Harvest and other restaurants they own – I wont be going back now. They seem clueless and inconsiderate.

      • Jerry MacDaid

        Previous reports were that the “restaurant” had been sold and that it would be operated as Mario’s for a year with existing staff then converted to Harvest when permits were received. http://www.westport-news.com/news/article/Mario-s-a-Saugatuck-dining-institution-closing-6167378.php However, the “retention of current staff” was in quote from the former owner, not the new guy.

        If the new guy had agreed to buy the business and keep the old employees and reneged on the agreement, 1) there should be a lawsuit for breach of contract between seller and buyer and 2) new owner will face stiff unemployment insurance premiums after laying everyone off. Alternatively, perhaps the former owners were misled and naive enough to not put it in the contract. Or, a sale of the “restaurant with employees” was never the deal and this was just a lease of the building and sale of furniture and fixtures as part of the lease.

        It does seem odd that if the new guy really was buying “the business”, that Mario’s would have closed with a “last meal” and all the surrounding hoopla. That it did close suggests that is not what was agreed to.

        However, without seeing the contract or hearing directly from either buyer or seller, hard to tell what the real deal is here. Harvest is not off to a good start though as, on the surface, the behavior seems rude at best. Presumably they (or the seller) would want to clear the air.

  26. Won’t be going there anytime soon

  27. Susan Hopkins

    Very sad from every perspective. No, the new owner is not compelled to “carry” former Mario’s employees. That said, did Siguenza have to be such a rude, insensitive jerk? I repeat: End of an Era.

  28. MG Beecher

    It seems foolhardy for someone to open a restaurant that has such loyal employees and patrons and immediately alienate them. I don’t expect his restaurant will last long.

  29. Please everyone take a step back and understand no one was or is trying to hurt anyone. There are always two sides to every story. I know the employees are hurting that Mario’s is gone, but nothing last forever. I assure you no one not the previous owner or the new owner are people who set out to hurt anyone. Please stop slandering people you do not know anything about.
    Mario’s was something special to each of us and knowing Frank and Mario personally I believe they are looking down smiling at what they started so many years ago will have a new and modern life. Both were very special restauranteurs and would be proud to know that equal restauranteurs are walking the same floors they did and reviving their dream.
    So to Vincente Siguenza and family, best of luck!

    • Jamie Walsh

      He wasted people’s time and dashed their hopes. I am sure they had more important thing to do like find real employment to pay their bills and feed their families. No one is slandering his reputation….seems he did a pretty good job of set himself up for criticism.

  30. He doess not get it this is a small town with a great diversity of OTHER resturants! There is the Duck,323,Spotted Horse,among others that treatthe help fairly! This guy needds a dose of reality! If thats how he does business, we dont need him in town! Let him go back to his table in greenwich where people act like this!

    Boycott this place!!!!!

  31. Paul is a classmate of ours (Dan) and has worked there at Mario’s since Staples. I wondered through this whole sale discussion what would happen to Paul’s job. Now I know . Totally sucks! I was worried about him when this sale started.

  32. It’s always curious when a restaurant “supports” “local and organic farms” as “a top priority”, which this company states on its site.
    Maybe you ask around just to be sure.

  33. jerrymacdaid

    Dan – did you call the former owners for comment on what the deal was supposed to be and if the buyer reneged on their deal and was screwing over their former employees?

  34. Jill Turner Odice

    Wow, way to go! What a great way to introduce himself to future customers…He could have sent out an email letting each old Mario’s employee know that he would accept their resumes and look them over at least…How dumb to not take into account the value of an employee who is loyal and hard working. In this day and age it is not easy to find employees who take pride in doing a good job and are reliable…He doesn’t sound like the brightest crayon in the box.

  35. Joan Sardaro

    You won’t see me ever at any of this mans restaurants. Coming into a small town and basically stating no one is worth training or his time or effort. That’s enough for me to write him and his place off.

  36. Michael Calise

    sounds like somebody got sold a bill of goods!

  37. Mario’s is gone. 45 years of my life spent in that booze and smoke filled paradise are a pleasant memory. It appears that the DeMace and Sacco families want to be landlords for a few years til all that very valuable real estate is developed like the Gault property. Lets work on finding a spot for the “Duck” to move to. All of our beloved Westport has been erradicated. Life goes on. Hundreds of great times in that bar and restaurant. Screw the new guy. Ill never set foot in there again.

  38. Adam Orloski

    cant really get mad at the new management! Only person to be mad at or upset, would be Lori and Fletcher.

  39. Dennis Jackson

    Mr. Siguenza may be betting that in a town with such turnover it makes sense to kiss off some old timers in order to woo more nouveau dollars. One gathers it worked for him in Greenwich.

    Where have we heard this story before? And we grieve, justifiably, every time it is repeated.

  40. Jane Schulhof

    BOYCOTT! This scum-bag needs to be shown the way out of town!

  41. Daniel Katz

    Why would any Westporter even think of patronizing whatever that bastard opens in the location…Just say NO and eat at one of the other dozens and dozens of joints in town….

  42. Doug Conner

    Selling Mario’s to Vincente Siguenza is a huge mistake.

  43. Jim Warner

    Here is what I can’t understand. In selling or leasing the building/property to Harvest, didn’t Tiger and Mario’s heirs think to keep the name Mario’s? The amount of brand equity in the name is incalculable. I completely get the fact that Tiger’s and Mario’s kids don’t want to be in the restaurant business but how about they license the Mario’s name to Paul T. and few others. Then if half of the well-heeled patrons and customers put up some cash, you could have a new Mario’s somewhere else in Westport and the heirs simply have to cash monthly royalty checks. (Busboy 1969-1971)

    • Jim–great idea. My wife was suggesting something similar last night (and thought they wouldn’t even necessarily need the name Mario’s to get a new place going with the old clientele.).

  44. Janet Deering

    This man doesn’t sound like much of a business man. If you’re going to change it completely, then do so. Never mind keeping the Mario’s name as people will only be disappointed. If he had his new place, new name, and as many of Mario’s employees he could, he’d do much better. They would draw people in. As it stands now, I would never go there either. Might have if it was all fresh. This guy sounds like a pompous ass. Mario’s was a “go to” friendly place. NO one, except the staff, would be able to carry on any of the feelings or attraction it had. He just buried himself!

  45. Dear Dan,
    Please stop the craziness of this! I don’t know who these people are but surely they do not know the families. If this is staff then I suggest they talk to the parties involved privately. Maybe Dan you need to go back and and rewrite that article. It is absurd that people in town and employees have this much time on their hands. Calling people names is outrageous (and slanderous) you should not allow that platform to continue. So I urge you Dan, get the facts and stop this crazy crusade.

    • jerrymacdaid

      I have to agree with J Dwyer. I know none of the people involved and only once or twice set foot in Mario’s in 30 years. However, Siguenza is taking all of the heat (perhaps at least partially deserved based on description of behavior but perhaps they had been misled to think he was going to continue their employment so were going to be pissed off no matter what he said). Where are former owners and still property owners Lori Kosut and Dominic DeMace in all of this? Who misled whom about future employment? Who really owes the former employees anything?

      As noted in a previous post, none of us commenters really know the truth here.

    • Paul Flaxman

      J. Dwyer! I agree with you completely! Mario’s was great and now things are changing and I think we can tell from the comments here – people don’t like change. We should all hope that whatever opens up in that location is successful.

      • Hi Paul! How are you? Brian and I would love to hear from you. They were great times at Mario’s and I wish all involved the best.

        • Paul Flaxman

          Hi Judy – I figured that was you and am so glad you responded! I agree regarding Mario’s – such a special place and a special time. Please send me an email so we can catch up – pflax24@hotmail.com.

  46. sandy johnson

    I cannot believe how inhumane this man is!!!!! Along with many others I will never enter this man’s restaurant — If enough of us who were always loyal customers boycott -hopefully he will have to leave My heart aches for all the loyal and hard working people who are losing their jobs

  47. sandy lane

    Hi Dan,What can we all do to keep this man out of here?  He sure sounds like the kind of person we don’t need  Maybe we could have some sort of boycott with people all hanging out in front????   I’m thinking of the loyals standing on the bridge all the years boycotting.   It is so sad what is happening to the lovely town I came to live in 30 some years ago – becoming just another “mall place”this all breaks my heart including the fact I am having to move because I can’t even afford to stay here!!

  48. John Goldhurst

    This is disgusting. Really bad business. I will boycott this place for sure.
    Its people like him that give Westport a bad name.

  49. Thomas Doyle

    The loss of Mario’s is a true loss for the town. Initial reports seemed to indicate that it would be around until he transitioned to the new wine bar. Now that it is closed and all the employees have lost their jobs earlier reports either were in error or he changed his mind. I have frequented one of his other restaurants but will likely not be a customer at the wine bar.

  50. Donna Rosenfeld

    Please try to alert us as to the date of the rally. This is one loyal customer who would very much like to be there.

  51. Gloria Mauro

    Despite the new owner’s of Mario’s being insensitive and seemingly jerks. As a former employee who also got the shaft, the real issues are how the Demace/Kosut family handled the whole situation. It is reprehensible how the whole thing went down. Most employee’s were told less than two weeks before the restaurant closed. Some were not, including one bartender who had worked there for over 35 years. We were told that we all had our jobs for at least a year and that nothing would change. This was a contrived lie. I understand that business is business and that Mario’s was Frank and Mario’s legacy, not necessarily the children’s. However, most of Mario’s employees were not just waiters and bartenders they gave their lives and career’s to the restaurant. The right way would have been to call us all in and have a meeting, thanking everyone for their loyal and dedicated service. Gosh, maybe a cake would have been a nice gesture, it would not have taken much. The sense of entitlement and lack of respect for the employees was absolutely deplorable. Many of the staff who had served for 30-40 years of their lives were not even thanked, let alone handed a bit of a severance. As the kosut family revels in all of their money, people who relied on their jobs to support their families are wondering where their next meal may be coming from. All I can do is pray that the old timers find employment and continue their next journeys in life happily. As for the kosut’s I am sure you are sleeping like babies as all the human beings you treated like garbage suffer. That is the real tragedy.

  52. Patrick O'Donoghue

    I worked with Mario’s place from 1995 to 2002 from busboy to waiter to bartender over a combined total of almost 8 years the people there really should be asked where those employees should go or who they should question is to their jobs and their families and how to support them is the former employees who gave no notice and left those loyal people some of which I’ve known for many years with nothing but a pat on the back and maybe not even a good luck it really is too bad some of those customers have been going there for 50 years it’s a tragedy I truly feel for the employees that lost their jobs at a minute’s notice now in retrospect I look back and I’m happy that I left a few months before this took place wish them well good luck.