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When ‘Tomorrow’ Never Comes: The Saga of a DTLA Bar Staff’s Struggle To Get Paid

A barback recalled a time when he had to use a payday loan app to cover a dinner bill. “How can you, with a straight face, hand someone a check knowing that there isn’t money in the account,” the barback questioned.

A view from the patio of Mezcalero's Downtown Long Beach location.

A view from the patio of Mezcalero’s Downtown Long Beach location.

Mezcalero, a DTLA tequila and mezcal-focused bar co-owned by Jay Krymis, abruptly closed in early March after Krymis and his partners struggled for months to pay his workers and vendors on time, according to multiple former employees of the downtown location who spoke to L.A. TACO.

Issues with getting paid extended to Krymis’ other ventures, which include a Downtown Long Beach Mezcalero location above sister restaurant Padre, according to eight current and former employees, as well as Schmitty’s in West Hollywood.

“We would have to hit him (or managers) up constantly to get paid,” a former bartender at Mezcalero DTLA told L.A. TACO during an interview last month. The bartender requested anonymity because they were still owed hundreds of dollars in back pay. “We would often get told ‘I got you' or ‘tomorrow’ and then wait weeks to the point that ‘tomorrow’ became a sad joke amongst the entire staff.”

The bartender said that in addition to not paying staff on time, Mezcalero had back bills with “most” of their vendors. “We wouldn’t be able to get produce or liquor for either the kitchen or the bar and would have to scramble to keep things running on whatever we had,” the bartender alleged.

“Strangely, towards the end, they did a remodel and redid the look of the place,” the bartender said.

L.A. TACO reviewed numerous screenshots of text messages between the bartender and Krymis and conversations between Krymis and other employees.

The messages show staff hounding Krymis and management about late payments, bounced checks, and Krymis offering excuses.

“We should have funds in the next 24-48 hours.”

“Today I think finally.”

“By tonight for sure.”

“Tomorrow,” Krymis wrote back when people asked for their money.

In other instances, Krymis and managers offered to pay people through Venmo, PayPal, Zelle or by Ubering cash to them.

Additionally, L.A. TACO reviewed bank statements and receipts from more than five current and former employees of Krymis’ bars, showing that multiple checks bounced when staff tried to deposit them. The receipts were further backed up by screenshots of text messages showing employees confronting Krymis and managers about the bounced checks. 

“I have had multiple checks bounce, as well as other employees,” a bartender at Schmitty’s, who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of losing their job, told L.A. TACO in March. “Schmitty’s is also behind on paying vendors.”

“They have never apologized nor explained why they can’t pay us on time or why the checks are bouncing. They just tell us we'll have it fixed next week, or they act confused and say there is money in the account, yet everyone's checks are being returned?”

“After my first paycheck [cleared] two weeks later, [another check] ended up bouncing,” a former barback at the Long Beach location who quit in February told L.A. TACO. At first the checks were deemed as “bounced,” according to the barback and copies of their bank receipts. “And then [the bank] started to mark them as fraudulent.” 

The barback recalled a time when he had to use a payday loan app to cover a dinner bill. 

“How can you, with a straight face, hand someone a check knowing that there isn’t money in the account,” the barback questioned.

Frustrations over late payments came to a head days after Mezcalero DTLA quietly closed down at the beginning of March. After the closure, a former employee called out Mezcalero DTLA for not paying workers on time and other labor violations, in an IG Reel that has garnered over a hundred comments and inspired other current and former employees to put Krymis on blast for allegedly not paying them on time.

“It’s all true,” a former Mezcalero DTLA employee told L.A. TACO in March. “It’s been a very consistent issue having to hunt your money down. Going to management would rarely help, we’d have to directly text the owner (Krymis) who was always so flaky with responses. He would give excuses telling us “tomorrow.” We’d have to text him multiple times…because he’d ghost us.”

“We were literally begging for the money we had legally earned.”

Almost everyone we spoke to for this story who was owed money was eventually paid what they were owed.

But it generally took days and sometimes months of text messages, phone calls, social media callouts, and bounced checks before they were made whole.

Not being paid on time put workers who were already living paycheck to paycheck in an even more precarious situation, causing some people to overdraw their bank accounts and struggle to take care of basic expenses like paying for dinner.

In one instance, a bartender at Mezcalero’s Long Beach location fell behind on their child support payments because their payroll checks kept bouncing, and they didn’t realize there wasn’t enough money in their account. 

“My checks are getting garnished because of that,” the bartender told L.A. TACO during an interview.

The situation at Mezcalero Long Beach got so dire that there were periods of time in recent months when the restaurant couldn’t order produce and the bar couldn’t order liquor because they were so backed up with their vendors, according to the bartender. 

“There are like four or five cocktails that they can’t make,” they said in mid-March. 

To stay afloat at times, Mezcalero Long Beach had to transport liquor from Schmitty’s, the West Hollywood bar owned by Krymis, according to two bartenders. And managers sometimes had to buy alcohol at liquor stores with their own money, according to multiple current and former employees. 

“We don’t even get paid on payday anymore,” the Long Beach bartender said in March. Employees are paid when the money is there and even then checks are “still bouncing,” the bartender said.

In a long-winded written statement to L.A. TACO, Krymis admitted that “towards the end, checks bounced,” but stopped short of saying that people weren't paid “on time.”

“Folks were paid on time,” Krymis wrote in an email. “If a check bounced I would e-pay them asap along with any fees they may have had.” He also disputed the assertion that some people had to wait “months” to get paid.

Krymis strongly denied that managers had to buy alcohol at liquor stores because their vendors cut them off or that they had to use their own money to cover expenses. But he admitted that sometimes “product” had to be brought in from “other places but not often.” “We’d borrow stuff from there,” Krymis said over the phone, referring to Schmitty’s. 

“I never demanded or asked or requested that any staff member buy anything with their own money,” Krymis said. “Yes, there were occasions that the manager or the bar manager would buy stuff for [research and development] or something that we ran out of last minute (limes for example) but I always, always reimbursed them.”

Now that Mezcalero DTLA is closed, Krymis says he’s personally paying back vendors.

During conversations with L.A. TACO, the 20+ year bar and restaurant owner portrayed himself as a “foolish optimist” who worked hard to try and save a small business and keep people employed after his partners “disappeared” on them. He also emphasized that since closing Mezcalero DTLA he’s personally paid “everyone” who was owed money.

“I worked so damn hard to keep that lil place open. It was when the cost of saving it started to put the other restaurants in a tough spot that I decided I could not not afford it anymore and told my partners I could not do it alone anymore,” Krymis said. 

According to Krymis, he owned less than 20 percent of Mezcalero DTLA but “put in 100% of the money, work, effort, and love” into the place despite not making “a cent” off it.

Krymis biggest mistake, he said, was not closing sooner. “Sixty-five restaurants closed in 2023,” Krymis said, referring to an L.A. Times story. “It should have been 66.”

Krymis says it feels “heartbreaking” to be publicly “vilified” for trying to do the right thing. And that a social media “smear campaign” against him led to rumors of infidelity (which Krymis denied), trolls targeting his wife, “profanity graffiti on walls,” and negative Yelp reviews, according to Krymis.

“To paint me as a monster who never paid workers is so unfair,” Krymis argued.

‘I Needed the Money’

“I’d like to get paid today,” Brian Fernandez texted Krymis in late February, nearly two months after completing a successful month-long guest bartending residency over the holidays last year at Mezcalero’s popular Downtown Long Beach location.

The residency was a hit, grossing $18,000 in just 12 days, according to Fernandez. During its most crowded nights, the upstairs bar felt like a packed nightclub.

However, two months after completing the residency, Fernandez and his two co-workers were still owed thousands of dollars. 

“Hey man pay us this pretty insane,” Fernandez wrote Krymis again on February 25, screenshots of the conversation shared with L.A. TACO show. By then, Fernadez had been texting Krymis almost daily for the past month. 

“I needed the money,” he said in March.

“By tonight for sure,” Krymis texted back. “Deposits for the week should be in by 11/12 [PM].”

Sunday evening came and went without Fernandez being paid. 

“I shouldn’t have to be asking for my money for over a month and half,” Fernandez texted Krymis the next day. “I’m sorry about your situation but it has been well over the expiration date for my sympathy.”

Days passed without a text back from Krymis, according to screenshots of their conversation. 

“Pay us man, ppl have bills to pay and ppl to support, this honestly pretty cruel,” Fernandez pleaded. “I shouldn't have to write this text at all, you owe us for work we did. I don’t want to hear ‘tomorrow’ or that [I will be paid at] 11 or 12 [tonight], or anytime that isn’t now man.”

“We should have funds in the next 24-48 hours,” Krymis eventually wrote back.

Five days later, Fernandez finally collected a check for $3,600 on March 12, days after Mezcalero employees began airing out their grievances publicly on social media following the abrupt closure of Mezcalero’s DTLA location.

“I go to the bank, I call [a manager] right before and tell them ‘I’m going to deposit the check,’ Fernandez recalled during an interview last month. “Then I deposit the check, and there’s a hold on it until the 21st,” Fernandez said in disbelief. 

“He made a mistake and [he] should own up to it,” Fernandez said, referring to Krymis. “Half of the staff would have still stayed if he would have told them he didn’t have money to pay them.”

Over the phone Krymis admits, “it took me too long to pay those guys,” when confronted with Fernandez’s allegations.

“Yes, we were late in paying Brian and the Long Beach Bartender Guild. I did not make that deal with them but as the owner I am responsible,” Krymis wrote in an email. “I apologized to Brian several times and let him know that even though he has been paid in full (again, everyone has been paid) I still feel awful about it and if there is anything…anything at all that we can do to help the guild let us know.”

“I want to make things right with them,” Krymis said.

Both Krymis as well as staff still working at Mezcalero Long Beach and Schmitty’s in West Hollywood say that things have turned around for the two remaining bars ever since the DTLA location closed.

Contrary to Krymis’ claim that “everyone has been paid,” as of last week two people said they were still waiting on money. But they were confident they would soon be fully reimbursed.

“I was owed a lot more money than I thought but I’m about to get that all back,” one of Krymis’ employees said last week.

In the end, Krymis says the DTLA location cost him his “saving," almost cost him his marriage, and it put other businesses he owns “in a tight spot.”

“Yes, we had a rough time and we bounced checks but that is it,” Krymis said. “I lost a small fortune, lost my biz (sic) and am being mis-represented. I understand I made mistakes.”

“I wish I had done things differently.”

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