Ruggles Waitstaff Stages Walk-Out, Alleging Non-Payment of Tips: UPDATE

Categories: Restaurant News

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Photo by Ed T.
Ruggles owner and chef Bruce Molzan lost 60 percent of his staff Saturday night.
Update: Bruce Molzan says that he has "three auditors" and a new manager going through files and payroll records as of today, admitting that Ruggles does owe the waitstaff back wages. "It's about $14,000 or $15,000 to catch everybody up," Molzan said. "This whole thing has just been blown out of proportion. I understand everyone being upset and wanting to get paid. It just happens, I guess." Molzan claims that he is working on getting Jeremiah Villarreal and the other waitstaff paid "today."

This past Saturday night at Ruggles was a busy one. There were nearly 200 customers packing the restaurant at Westheimer and Montrose, with a skeleton crew of only five waiters out of a normal 10-man crew. And at 7 p.m., all five of those waiters -- as well as Ruggles's general manager -- walked out, closing the restaurant behind them.

"We told the customers there was a gas leak," said Jeremiah Villarreal, 28, a University of Houston sports medicine student who had been a waiter at Ruggles since June.

Villarreal, his GM and his co-workers called the customers who had reservations for the evening to inform them that the restaurant would be closed unexpectedly, hung a sign on the door and left chef and owner Bruce Molzan with an empty restaurant and only four employees. All five waiters and the general manager submitted their resignations that night as well.

Villarreal and his fellow waitstaff allege that Molzan hasn't paid them their tips in nearly a year. Prior to the walk-out, Villarreal and his co-workers filed a claim with the Texas Workforce Commission, claiming that they're owed thousands of dollars in back wages. In a statement to the Chronicle today, Molzan claimed that "he was not in charge of the tip payments, but is working to get checks out as soon as possible."

However, this differs from the statement Molzan made to the Houston Press just last week, when contacted about Villarreal's claims of non-payment.

"Those are just people that are disgruntled," said Molzan, when contacted by phone. "We are paying people. We are keeping up with stuff. There's not a single person that's owed over $1,000."

This is untrue, says Villarreal: "I have maxed out my credit cards and have used up my entire savings to pay my bills in the meantime."

"I have no more money, and I'm now dealing with late fees and several overdraft fees. I'm worried my utilities will be cut off soon. I'm not the only person in this situation, I'm actually the one on staff who might be suffering the least."

Villarreal says that in the six months he worked for Ruggles, he never once received a standard payroll check. Instead, he alleges, Molzan paid his workers with personal checks -- a claim backed up by Ruggles's general manager, who asked not to be identified by name. And even when the waitstaff received personal checks for the money they were owed, Villarreal says, they were few and far between.

When Villarreal first started waiting tables ten years ago, it was common for waiters to get a $0 paycheck: Taxes were deducted from the few credit card tips they received, which were paid to them via check every week or two weeks. This is no longer the case, with nearly all tips left via credit card.

"I didn't get my first check for a month and a half," said Villarreal. "And it was only $165." That $165 was far less than the estimated $500 Villarreal claims to get in credit card tips each week, tips he says rarely show up on his paychecks. To date, he has only received $2,200 in six months of waiting tables.

It's increasingly rare for customers to leave cash tips, especially at upscale restaurants such as Ruggles, where a plate of steak Diane is $33. Said Molzan just last week: "Most of our sales are credit card sales," he said. "Maybe 85 percent of our sales are credit cards."

Villarreal estimates it at slightly more: "90 to 95 percent of all tips" are left on credit card receipts at Ruggles, he said. The rare instances in which he received a cash tip, he said, he was forced to hand it over to Molzan at the end of the evening.

"[Molzan's] personal checks didn't show our hourly wages," he said. Neither did the checks show any credit card tips, nor were Social Security taxes deducted from them, Villarreal said. The Texas Minimum Wage Act (Sec. 62.003) requires employers to provide an earnings statement to their employees, including hours worked, rate of pay and total amount of pay for the period.

The situation escalated in recent months, when Molzan repeatedly took trips and flaunted new purchases in front of his employees -- "On Facebook, his wife posts pictures of their extravagant Thanksgiving feast, when several of us couldn't even prepare a feast for Thanksgiving because we haven't been paid," said Villarreal -- despite telling his waitstaff that he was having cashflow issues. The general manager, who had access to Ruggles's bank account records, claims that this is not true, and that Molzan has always had enough money to pay his waitstaff -- but chooses not to.

"He says if he pays us he won't be able to pay the bills at Ruggles and we won't get paid either way," Villarreal told the Press last week, prior to the walk-out. "Management constantly tells us to be patient and not quit."

Molzan told the Press: "I'm a small business guy. I live on cashflow just like everyone else in a bad economy." Last week, Molzan was blaming his cashflow issues on a downed computer system and a slow credit card company.

"Our computers went down a week ago and we're working on getting them back up. My credit cards haven't been going back into the bank," Molzan said. Today, he's blaming the general manager -- even though Villarreal claims that the GM was the only person at Ruggles fighting to get the waitstaff paid.

The excuses have gone on long enough for Villarreal. The waiter, who worked at Bonnie's Beef & Seafood for six years before leaving for Ruggles, compared the two situations: "Bonnie's always made the effort to pay us, even when business was slow."

Villarreal has made an appointment with the Harris County District Attorney's office to file a civil case against Molzan, although he'll have to get in line: Molzan is currently embroiled in several other lawsuits, including two against the owners of Ruggles Green and Ruggles 11th Street Cafe. (Molzan doesn't run those restaurants, but rather licensed his name and recipes to them.)

In the meantime, Villarreal plans to picket the restaurant until he receives all the back wages he and his other waitstaff claim they are owed. "A lot of the servers are too scared to speak up, but I will," Villarreal said. "I'm fed up working for free and not being treated with respect."



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Location Info

Ruggles - CLOSED

903 Westheimer, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

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95 comments
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Abtvox
Abtvox

this is not new news...i worked with his sorry ass back in the 90's...molzan is a piece of shit little napoleon and has always taken advantage of everyone for his own personal benefit...trying to get a check from him was like pulling teeth...i hope he goes under and has to live on the street....shit is finally catching up to him.

Crashandbash
Crashandbash

Im a musician by trade. This is how I support my family. I played in several different bands that played his restaraunts all the way back to when he had a location in the ball park. He has bounced checks to every band that has worked there at one time or another. We would all have to chase somebody down to try and get a check for a account that had "sufficient funds." I dont know one cat thats worked there that hasnt been royally screwed around. All the bands used to call it "St-Ruggles" .. He is the cooking crook. Glad to see people not putting up with his crap.

Yada
Yada

one of the biggest a-holes in the business.

Rachel_e81
Rachel_e81

i used to work at Ruggles in the Village years ago. Let me tell you, getting a pay check from them meant getting zero. THey always bounced due to non sufficient funds!! So how did we get paid? We would give them our checks and they would give us what they owe in cash. That worked perfectly for the illegals who worked there. Bruce Molzan never looked like the most approachable guy whenever he came into the restaurant.

Yvonne
Yvonne

Since I was at the restaurant with a friend last Saturday I can tell you what they said happened didn't.  They let us valet park and seated us knowing the wait staff was not there.  Our first clue something was amiss was when we asked for our favorite waiter and was told he quit.  We waited about 15 minutes before trying to find someone to find out why there were no wait staff.  Several other people just walked out.  We were told the truth - that the wait staff walked out due to unpaid wages - not the gas leak story.  But as we were leaving, lots of other people including a big party were still coming in.  We go to Ruggles Grill 2-3 times a month.  I love the food and hope they get it together.  Anyone who funds the bills of their business by stealing from the pockets of the working staff - needs to get a swift kick in the legal behind.  Sad - I really like the place.

Theprincesscarrie
Theprincesscarrie

I worked there before Ike, and this is par for the course. Bruce is dishonest, to put it mildly. I also had to fight to get every paycheck, and was consistently shorted. I hope karma is finally catching up with him.

TF1982
TF1982

Wow. Does this man have any reedeming qualities?

Jalapeno
Jalapeno

Years ago I heard he didn't carry insurance, including comp for his employees.  Stopped visiting the old Ruggles then.  That's just bad business.

JaegerCat
JaegerCat

Bruce Molzan looks like a total douche bag. 

Ruggles Struggles
Ruggles Struggles

Wow, I used to work for this man a few years back, and I can attest to his character and lousy business skills. The man has such a temper and would verbally abused his cooks, servers, hostesses, and managers as well. Bruce owed so many contractors money, that when he couldn't afford to give them actual cash, he gave them free food. As for paying his servers, back when I used to work there Bruce's personal checks (the ones he used to pay staff instead of a professional payroll check) where notorious for bouncing that many of the neighboring check cashing places outright refused to take them. Thankfully as I lived away from the area I had no problem finding a place that accepted them. I thought that Bruce would have straightened up after he re-opened and got his act together, sort of like a second chance. I guess not.

Dirty little secret
Dirty little secret

He is a rumored cocaine user, at least that's what someone who used to work there told me.

Cme_smile
Cme_smile

Bruce used to call himself the Wolfgang Puck of Houston, should be more like WOLFGANG SHMUCK. 

Steve Billings
Steve Billings

Bruce is a liar and a cheat amongst other things. I find it funny, now that someone has actually done an article about what a douche he is, he is back peddling. Every server who has ever worked for him knows that he is lying about what he knew and didn't know. This is common practice for him. Servers Make $2.17 an hour. We already work for free. Those tips are for us and our families. Shame on you Bruce. You have been doing this kind of shit for years i hope that you get sued for everything your worth. You screw over everybody you deal with. 

Littlemartishka
Littlemartishka

I do also pay allMy employees cash at the end of an every night. I am not sure why any owner of any restaurant would take a hassle to deal with the nightmare accounting?!?!? Moreover, the money that HE is holding becomes a very expansive loan with a much higher percentage rate of the payroll taxes he has to fork out every 2 weeks or 6 month! Ouch man that is something the servers allowed to happen. Y'all let this dude not pay you for so long? I feel for you guys. But at the end of the day there is a reason why there are only few business man and so many more employees. It's just business and I am sure the Guy new what is coming to him eventually. It's not ethical but it was him against everyone else.

VollStadt
VollStadt

I think CultureMap already did this story.

Kidding. Really. Kidding.

dbone
dbone

Blown out of proportion?  What proportion should we blow $15,000 into?

Hankwarren2012
Hankwarren2012

His wife's name is Angela Gascue and she was the hostess at the restaurant while Bruce was married to his former wife Susan who divorced him over six years ago.  She now exclusively owns The Ruggles Cafe Bakery in Rice Village. Bruce has not been allowed in that building since the divorce.

nomas
nomas

Angela Gascue is a nasty ugly pig! 

MC Guest
MC Guest

Maybe Susan ought to consider a name change for the cafe / bakery.  Who'd want to be associated with this mess.  Same goes for Green and 11th St.

Ericleifmoore
Ericleifmoore

The best solution to this problem is EGGS! Anyone who believes in the American system must ralley together and Throw Eggs at this building, and at anyone brave enough to walk anywhere near this abomination of a restaurant. Eggs are cheap, and they really get the message across.

Hankwarren2012
Hankwarren2012

The news about the employees getting paid is valid.  Ruggles struggling is not.  His food is old and tired, lacks imagination and was done years ago.  California Pizza Kitchen is doing what he did 20 years ago better today.

Rosa Pode
Rosa Pode

I don't know man... his desserts are really really good.

Hankwarren2012
Hankwarren2012

The desserts were created by his first wife Susan. They are her recipes. He didn't have a hand in creating them when they were married or now that he's married to the hostess.

Cme_smile
Cme_smile

Ruggles reopened in January 2010, paying the servers tips late is a common practice with Bruce. He believes that the money from tips should be deposited into the bank account and used to pay his taxes and bills. Bruce's common phrase would be if he can't pay his debts he could not be open, when confronted to pay waiters tips on time or even payroll. Ruggles Grill has struggled to keep the doors open since reopening a common phrase you could hear is if we can just get through the Christmas season we'll be ok. The new year starts and it's dead in there, the next phrase valentines day, then mothers day and easter. that cycle is never ending. The Bruce that the guest meet is not the Bruce that we all had to endure, he is not charming or kind (just come in when his daughters are in and you can hear how hurtful and hateful he can really be) sit by the kitchen and hear him treat his staff like crap, stand by the manager and hear how he speaks. the man is a liar, a cheater and a thief. How can he go to Italy for 2 weeks knowing his staff hasn't been paid? How can he ask his staff to lie to process servers when they show to serve him papers? Oh by the way Bruce we  didn't comprise who we were for you we were honest why do you think he was always so close.

The servers walking out did the right thing. I only think they should have done this in september (it's gone back even further than that.)

texasex
texasex

I'm another ex-employee.  I watched Bruce take server paychecks on payday and hide them in a drawer.  He said he was holding them for a few more days.  He laughed saying that will really get them riled up.  I also saw him delete out employee hours from the payroll system so he wouldn"t have to pay overtime.  He would make some employees clock out and then tell them to get back to work. 

He is truely a horrible human being.  What comes around....

KC
KC

I have waited tables in a bazillion restaurants (all in California, but I don't think that makes a difference).  Every place I have worked has paid credit card tips at the end of each shift.  I've NEVER had to wait for them on my paycheck - the paycheck was only for wages paid by the restaurant.  Is that a normal thing in TX that the tips aren't paid at the time you earn them?  And how in the hell does this guy justify keeping those tips when doing his bookkeeping?  They are completely separate from the money he's earning for the food he's preparing.  My mind boggles.  And I feel SO bad for the staff - hang in there, folks.  Hopefully you'll eventually get the money owed you as well as a nice fat settlement after he's sued.

Frank Freeman
Frank Freeman

I worked for Tiny Boxwoods for a while and we got cash tips at the end of our shift and credit card tips on our paychecks. What's more is that they were always correct.

Dave
Dave

I've worked a few places in Houston, and I always got cash at the end of every shift as well.  The one place I managed that considered paying CC tips on weekly paychecks rather than in cash decided not to do it, once employees were polled (and unanimously rejected) about the idea.

Hell, I'd have walked out after one shift if I was told to hand my cash tips over to the owner.  Report them for tip sharing, or hand over a cash tip out, but all tips?  No way.  Hope this guy gets what's coming to him, and that everyone gets paid appropriately.

Guest
Guest

The most audacious thing is, even after admitting to not paying his staff, he has such an uncaring attitude about it all.  Not even an apology for withholding money that his employees earned.  It is, in part, the service of his employees that has kept him in business, and this is how he thanks them?  I hope they run this little sh!t out of town.  

Albert Nurick
Albert Nurick

I really hope these staff members get paid what they're owed.  And fast.  I understand being concerned about cashflow, but if you need a loan to make ends meet, you should ask before you take it.

bubu
bubu

The Chron article also says Molzan is no longer connected to Ruggles Green and was never associated with Ruggles 11th Street Cafe. What gives?

Ali
Ali

As someone who is in the midst of a claim with a former employer for back wages, I feel for them. At the end of the day, you owe it to the people who work hard for you so that YOU can be successful to pay them so they can feed their families and take care of their finances. Situations like this are disgusting. 

I've only been to Ruggles a couple of times, but I won't be returning. There are plenty of restaurants in Houston. Even in a soft economy, good waitstaff can get hired. Find someone who will appreciate you and pay you for being awesome.

Chuck
Chuck

"...There's not a single person that's owed over $1,000."

I know a few people for whom being short $1,000 on pay would not be much of a hardship. None of them work as servers in the restaurant industry. The fact that a chef could say something like that with a straight face is mind-blowing, and also very telling.

Cme_smile
Cme_smile

that's right there wasn't a single person owed $1000 they were all owed more.

Txzin
Txzin

What a joke!  "It just happens,I guess"????  Now, its just some kind of clerical error.  I really hope people take notice of this guy and how he treats his staff.  I would love to see how he would respond to someone cheating him out of over half is income and then to hear "it just happens, I guess.".  Most likely, he would throw one of his well known tantrums.  I have boycotted this guys place for years and hope others will as well.

Kristine Kozar
Kristine Kozar

You sound like a great partner for a hospitality workers advocacy group!

Big Tex
Big Tex

Molzan and Tillman Fertitta should go into business together.  They could open a restaurant consulting firm called F*** Your Vendor and an actual eatery called Stiff Your Waiter.

Txzin
Txzin

I have been in the restaurant business for almost 20 years now and have had quite a few friends work for Molzan at this very restaurant.  Never have I heard a kind word about this guy, from cheating staff to abusing staff to having staff be on lookout for his wife while he was with said hostess.  This guy deserves whatever he gets.  I just hope with Houston's amazing dining scene that diners will pass on patroning his establishments and focus on other locally owned restaurants thus creating a better job market for the poor servers Molzan cheated.

rfrederichs
rfrederichs

So I'm curious, and it will be obvious I've never worked in a restaurant. Do servers prefer tips in cash or by credit card? And how hard is it to total up the tips every night?

Brittanie Shey
Brittanie Shey

Also, here's a tip for you — if you're paying by credit card but tipping by cash, don't write $0 on the tip line. Write "CASH". It may seem like a small thing, but at the end of the night when the servers/bartenders are going through their receipts, it'll look a lot less like you stiffed them. Trust me, servers remember these things.

Margin Fades
Margin Fades

I do my best to tip in cash, so this is quite useful - thanks.

Txzin
Txzin

CASH is always better when tipping your server or bartender.  

Kyle
Kyle

Definitely cash tips. Credit card tips are charged at the regular income tax rate. Cash tips are available for spending the same night, and the IRS only makes the assumption that customers are tipping on sales at an 8% rate (so the server can claim that's all they were tipped and keep the rest).

CallThemStruggles
CallThemStruggles

Which wife was posting pictures on Facebook? Didn't Susan (whose money was behind the businesses in the first place) dump him when he knocked up that 17-year-old hostess back in '02 or '03? As I recall he was living in their garage apartment. Yup, class act all around.

Jeremiah
Jeremiah

his current wife, the one he cheated on Susan with.

Hankwarren2012
Hankwarren2012

The wife he has now  - Angela Gascue aka the hostess.  His former wife Susan lives a quiet life taking care of her girls and working in the Ruggles Cafe Bakery that is not affiliated with any of the aforementioned Ruggles (Green and 11th Street Cafe)

MadMac
MadMac

From the article: Molzan claimed that "he was not in charge of the tip payments, but is working to get checks out as soon as possible."

Wasn't this the same Chef Bruce that manage to get a billboard up and take a political position on lawsuits over a dispute with a CUSTOMER? But he's "not in charge of tip payments"?

Ruggles reminds me of The Sierra Grill. Both had their day. Stick a fork in this one, it's done.

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