Free Enterprise - The FindLaw Small Business Law Blog

Bad Buffet: Chain Restaurant Owners Owe $6.1M in Wages, Taxes

Ever wonder why buffets are such a good deal? Well, in the case of four Bay Area Chinese buffet restaurants -- Golden Dragon Buffet in Brentwood, New Dragon Buffet in San Leandro, Golden Wok Buffet in Roseville, and Kokyo Sushi Buffet in Hayward -- they could afford to keep their prices down because they were paying workers less than $6 an hour and forcing them to work 12-hour shifts with no overtime. Oh, and they were also cheating on their taxes.

Now three of the chain's operators are heading to jail, must pay back $4.5 million to their workers, and owe the state of California $1.5 million in back taxes.

All You Can Eat Charges

Along with wage theft and tax evasion, Yu Chen, Feng Gu, and Rongdi Zheng allegedly bused employees to and from work and forced them to stay in racially-segregated dorms, according to the East Bay Times:

Witnesses described being housed in overcrowded private residences around the Bay Area, which were segregated by race and gender. One said he slept in bunk beds in a garage with about a dozen others, and was required to work six days a week with no overtime. When a few complained about the poor working conditions, they were fired, evicted and threatened with deportation, according to witness statements.

"I will never be the same," one former employee told Superior Court Judge Charles Burch. "I want justice to be served so that this won't happen to anyone else. This shouldn't happen to anyone else."

Justice Served?

Chen, Gu, and Zheng were each sentenced to three and a half years in prison, and another defendant, Shao Rong Zhang, was sentenced to 120 days in jail after pleading no contest to a misdemeanor charge of enforcing a policy that prohibited employees from reporting minimum wage violations. The chain's owner, Brandon Quang, and defendants Guo Cai Feng and Lin Jiang, are believed to be hiding out in China to avoid prosecution.

While avoiding this kind of criminal liability for wage and hour laws might seem simple -- just treat your employees fairly and follow the law -- that may not be as easy as it sounds. First you need to know what the laws are.

Related Resources: