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Sun Setting on Ciao Bella? Cafe Hasn't Opened Its Doors in Weeks

By Benjamin Woodard | January 9, 2014 6:36am
 A message on Ciao Bella restaurant's website says it will reopen Feb. 1, but former employees are skeptical.
A message on Ciao Bella restaurant's website says it will reopen Feb. 1, but former employees are skeptical.
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DNAinfo/Benjamin Woodard

ROGERS PARK — Local officials and former employees of Ciao Bella Cafe, 6800 N. Sheridan Road, said they have been left in the dark about the future of the restaurant that hasn't opened its doors in weeks.

Owner Darren Christian opened the cafe in March, replacing the 1-year-old Pillars Social Cafe.

A message on the restaurant's website says "Ciao Bella Cafe is currently closed and plans to reopen under a new concept" on Feb. 1.

But employees said they were abruptly told in November that the cafe would close, with no immediate plans to reopen.

"He was not where he wanted to be financially," former head manager Jesse Briggs said of Christian. "He was starting to lose money because there was no consistency in the business. He went into panic mode."

Ald. Joe Moore (49th) said it had been months since he heard about what might become of the cafe, located on a prominent corner in the neighborhood.

Christian didn't respond to requests for comment.

Christian, a former Hershey Co. sales executive, told DNAinfo Chicago in March that he had planned for years to open a series of Ciao Bella restaurants in the Chicago area.

"I wasn't thinking Rogers Park," he had said, "but after learning more about the community" it turned out to be a good fit.

Briggs said Christian stopped returning his calls after Ciao Bella's closure.

Christian had been looking for partners to explore a different concept for the restaurant, said Briggs, and the cafe had applied for a license from the city to serve alcohol.

Other employees said the confusion after the closure resulted in lost paychecks.

Gillian McGhee, 21, a former server and barista, said she was still owed $100 in pay.

"I need that money," said McGhee, adding that Christian hadn't returned her emails or phone calls in weeks. "I gave him plenty and plenty of options."

Former part-time barista Alyssa Davis, 26, of Rogers Park, said she too was shorted a $40 paycheck from early November.

Another former employee, Jacob Kremin, 21, said he was owed $100, and wasn't paid until confronting the owner in front of customers.

Briggs said other employees expressed their frustration over lost pay in the months before and after Ciao Bella's closure.

He said he was willing to help employees obtain end-of-year tax documents.

"I wasn’t contacted by every single employee," he said, "but it was definitely a very complicated and stressful issue for a lot of employees."