Miguel Cruz, center, of Brentwood gets support from members of a Groundswell Fund training session as the group spontaneously joins a rally held by the Restaurant Opportunities Center United of Pittsburgh in support of workers from bZ Bar & Twisted Eatery on the North Side Friday.
By Daniel Moore / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
BZ Craft Bar and Twisted Eatery, occupying the corner of Federal Street and General Robinson Street across from PNC Park, overflows with Pirates fans during baseball season and attracts a steady stream of regulars throughout the winter.
On Sunday, bZ had locked its doors without warning, with a three-day shutoff notice from Peoples Natural Gas — an indication the business wasn’t paying its utility bills.
Now, more than two dozen workers are demanding Michigan-based bZ pay at least $44,000 the restaurant allegedly owes to them due to unpaid overtime and back pay from checks that they could not process. Bob Zdravkovski, the restaurant’s owner whose initials are its namesake, did not respond to multiple messages to two phone numbers and one email address seeking comment.
On Friday, the Restaurant Opportunities Center United of Pennsylvania, held a rally outside the closed bar on behalf of the workers.
R.O.C. United is a workers advocacy organization that conducts research and organizes campaigns to improve the standards for low-wage employees. The group recently raised concerns that some restaurants were eliminating the automatic gratuity for servers of large parties. The group also is promoting the City of Pittsburgh’s paid sick leave ordinance, which is being challenged in court.
For workplace issues, the group has a team of lawyers that approves intervention with a case. Its Pennsylvania director, Sheila R. Maddali, said bZ’s workers deserve the money they claim they’re owed.
This week, aided by the R.O.C. United, the out-of-work employees sent a letter to Mr. Zdravkovski spelling out their allegations and asking for “an amicable resolution.”
Over the past winter, Mr. Zdravkovski renovated the interior with barn wood accents and hung new murals and paintings. The restaurant was a destination for pregame Pirates festivities and would frequently have a disc jockey inviting people inside.
The restaurant earned generally positive reviews. More than 200 customers on Facebook gave it an average of 4.3 out of 5 stars. Google reviewers averaged 3.5 out of 5 stars.
Yet in January, workers said, Mr. Zdravkovki began to shake up staff.
Amanda DiGregory, who was an assistant manager quit in February, after some other employees were let go. She and others reached out to the local office of R.O.C. United, based on the North Side.
Miguel Cruz, a former cook who worked at bZ for nearly three years, said he took the bus to work last Sunday. When Mr. Cruz got there, the doors were locked. Clinton Bylo, bZ’s director of operations, was boxing up supplies and told him that Mr. Zdravkovki had sold the business.
Records show Michigan-based B & Z Restaurant Group LLC opened business in Pittsburgh in February 2012. The group also opened bZ locations in Livonia, Mich., Vernon Hills, Ill., Lombard, Ill., its website says. Its Vernon Hills location filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Dec. 9, 2015, claiming assets and liabilities of less than $50,000.
The Better Business Bureau of Western Pennsylvania has not prepared a report on bZ, according to a search conducted by the BBB, meaning the agency has not had frequent inquiries, complaints or other reasons to develop information.
Behind locked glass doors on Friday, bZ was cleared of booths and tables. Some stray, half-full liquor bottles still lined shelves beside the bar. Smith Brothers Advertising, which owns the building and leased space to bZ, confirmed that the restaurant had permanently closed and that it is seeking a new tenant, a spokeswoman said. She declined to comment further.
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