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Pasadena’s ‘No Tipping’ Restaurant Sued By Feds For Allegedly Stealing Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars In Tips From Workers

The Department of Labor alleges that the owners of Entre Nous French Bistro, “knowingly and willfully withheld a portion” of tips that were supposed to go to their workers, and instead used the money to fund business expenses. Authorities hope to recover roughly $250,000 in back wages “and an equal amount in liquidated damages for 18 employees.”

1:41 PM PST on January 4, 2024

Screenshot from Entre Nous French Bistro/Instagram

A owners of a Pasadena restaurant stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from more than a dozen employees, according to a U.S. Department of Labor complaint filed in federal court last month.

The Department of Labor alleges that Jean-Christophe Febbrari and Mathias Wakrat, the owners of Entre Nous French Bistro, “knowingly and willfully withheld a portion” of tips that were supposed to go to their workers, and instead used the money to fund business expenses.

Febbrari and Wakrat collected credit card and cash tips from customers and automatically deposited the funds into a business account, a U.S. Department of Labor investigation found. They also collected cash tips, stored them under a cash register and then deposited them into their business account, according to the complaint.

Only a portion of the tips were distributed to staff, “through a Zelle wire transfer on a weekly basis,” according to the Feds.

For example, in December 2021 customers left more than $12,000 in credit card tips to employees. Only about $7,500 of that money went to staff. The rest was used for “other purposes,” according to the Department of Labor’s complaint.

Additionally, investigators found that Febbrari and Wakrat “misclassified several employees as independent contractors and did not keep accurate pay records.”

Authorities hope to recover roughly $250,000 in back wages “and an equal amount in liquidated damages for 18 employees.” The department of labor is also seeking an injunction forbidding the restaurant and its owners “from future violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act.”

“Illegal practices by restaurant employers such as Entre Nous French Bistro in Pasadena hurt employees and also law-abiding employers who face unfair competition due to the stealing of tips by unscrupulous employers,” said regional solicitor of labor Marc Pilotin in San Francisco. “Customers expect — and the law requires — that tips go to employees, not their employer. We seek to recover the wages owed, enjoin this company from future violations and protect the significant public interest at stake.”

Hailing from the French Riviera, a world renowned coastal region of Southern France that runs along the Mediterranean Sea, Febbrari and Wakrat opened Entre Nous French Bistro in Old Town Pasadena in 2018 after selling their shares in another French restaurant. The restaurant's name translates to “between us” in English.

Entre Nous automatically adds a charge to all bills, according to their online menu and a photo of a printed menu from October. 

“A 20% fee will be added to your bill. This is not a gratuity or tip. We are a no tipping establishment,” the menu reads. “The fee is revenue that is not segmented or designated in any way; it is taxed per state law and is used to fund all of our operations.”

The restaurant also has a “$50 minimum order per person seated at a table” requirement, according to their online menu.

Based on a review of Entre Nous French Bistro’s menus posted on Yelp, it appears that the 20 percent charge and disclaimer were added to the menu recently. Earlier menus show that the restaurant previously charged “18% gratuity” for parties of six or more.

In their complaint, the Department of Labor confirmed that on May 25 of last year, while an investigation into Entre Nous was pending, Febbrari and Wakrat “implemented a no-tip policy and instead collected a 20% service charge from customers. However, some customers still leave cash tips for employees” and Febbrari and Wakrat “continue to wrongfully keep employee earned cash tips instead of distributing them to employees.”

Under federal law, an employer is allowed to take a “tip credit” to help cover minimum wage and overtime obligations, but they are not permitted to keep “any portion of employees tips for any purpose, whether directly or through a tip pool,” according to the Department of Labor. 

A service charge applied to a bill is not considered a tip under the Federal Labor Standards Act.

The owners of Entre Nous French Bistro did not respond to a request for comment sent via email Thursday morning. Telephone calls to the restaurant went to voicemail.

If you suspect you’ve been a victim of wage theft, you can search an online database to see if the U.S. Department of Labor has money waiting for you. 

You can also file a complaint against your employer through the agency.

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