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Saigon Grill Closes Amid Battle Over $1M in Back Wages

By Emily Frost | March 4, 2013 4:44pm | Updated on March 5, 2013 8:34am

UPPER WEST SIDE — Saigon Grill, the controversial Vietnamese restaurant that has been locked in a years-long battle with former workers over millions of dollars in back wages, has closed.

The eatery, located at Amsterdam Avenue at West 90th Street, posted a sign on its door announcing the closure.

"We're sorry for inconvenience with you," the note read.

A voicemail machine reiterates the message, adding, "And we hope that we can coming back soon."

The restaurant could not be reached for comment.

First reported by the West Side Rag, the closure marks the apparent end of the road for the restaurant after years of fighting with its former employees.

The workers, who picketed in front of its doors five days a week during lunch and dinner hours for two years, have been seeking repayment of millions of dollars in back pay from the owners.

The disgruntled employees, who said they were illegally fired after trying to organize, were owed $4.6 million from a labor violations suit they won in 2008 against owners Simon and Michelle Nget. In February, a judge ruled that the new owners of the Saigon Grill, Bei Lin and Ling Qiao, who took over in October 2010, would have the workers $1.5 million.

They paid $500,000, but still owed the workers $1 million.

In recent weeks, the restaurant was closed several times on a temporary basis by the Health Department after evidence of flies, roaches and mice were discovered.

Organizers from the Justice Will Be Served campaign, which has staged demonstrations against the restaurant, and Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, are planning a "celebratory" rally on Friday at noon in front of the restaurant. 

"We see it as a big victory for workers and the whole community on the Upper West Side," said lead organizer Jei Fong. "It sends a really clear message that if you’re running a sweathshop operation, you’re not going to last on the Upper West Side." 

Fong said the workers have hired a lawyer and "are planning to pursue the judgement against the owners." 

Thirty-six workers were part of the original $4.6 million settlement.

Fong said workers have continued to picket outside the closed restaurant despite its closure to "put any new owner on notice of the history of the Saigon Grill."

"The workers are very happy," Fong said. "They’re coming together."

Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal said the owners "have caved under the mounting pressure," and "chose the money-saving option and closed" and that "they are now shamefully reneging" on their promise to repay the workers. 

"I will continue to work with the employees and the Justice Will Be Served Campaign to ensure that the employees are fairly compensated," she said.