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State launches 'priority investigation' into accusations of unpaid restaurant wages -EXCLUSIVE

After allegedly working unpaid for weeks, staff members of Donovan's Reef in Branford finally had enough and walked out.

BRANFORD, Conn. — A Branford restaurant is under a "priority investigation" by the state Department of Labor (DOL) for complaints from employees who say they are owed weeks of back pay. 

Employees at Donovan's Reef told FOX61 that they have been working for weeks without pay and they have had enough and walked out.

Former manager Nicholas Lanese told FOX61 on Tuesday he took $4,000 out of his own pocket to pay staff because “paychecks stopped.” He said it's been very difficult to get in touch with owners Steve Sinapsis and his wife, Eliza.

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The workers tried to call Sinapsis’ cell phone while speaking with FOX61 and it went to voicemail.

“It just boggles my mind how people can be this way,” waitress Cina Branco said.

The doors were locked at Donovan’s Reef on Tuesday.

“I have no pay stubs. I can’t vouch for an apartment. I can’t vouch for my livelihood,” explained hostess Schuylar Giwa.

Owner Steve Sinapsis, when reached for comment by FOX61, said they are focused on paying the staff reimbursing customers for scheduled events, and to "resolve with integrity as I had pledged and promised internally." He called it a "nightmare scenario."

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The owners are not only accused of leaving their employees in the dark but clients too. Bride-to-be Briana Bogue made a deposit and signed a catering contract with the restaurant for her upcoming wedding.

“I got an email from my planner saying...Donovan’s is closing, you're out of luck. I was told that I will be getting my $1,500 deposit back. I was not told when or how this would be the case,” Bogue said.

Neighboring catering business La Cucina has picked up some of Donovan’s contracts.

“It’s the right thing to do. To help everyone out,” said La Cucina owner Greg Bozzi. Greg and his wife, Joy, also happen to be the former owners of Donovan’s Reef. Steve Sinapsis was their general manager.

“He was a very determined hard worker when he worked for us,” recalled Joy.

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FOX61 brought the story to the CT Restaurant Association where CEO Scott Dolch said, “If these employees have been working they definitely should have been paid.”

The DOL sent FOX61 a statement that read, in part, “Upon receiving a complaint, investigators begin an inquiry; may audit employment, payroll and other records; and may issue Stop Work orders to protect workers.”

Matt Caron is a reporter at FOX61 News. He can be reached at mcaron@fox61.com. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.


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