Bernie’s is open again, but for how long? Part I

In typically mysterious fashion, Bernie’s Restaurant & Bar in Glenside closed its doors in mid-October and announced its reopening on November 4. This wasn’t the first time. There’s been an ongoing discussion around town, on TikTok and on Facebook: What the hell is going on with Bernie’s? Why do they keep closing and reopening?

One rumor has it that PECO shut off the restaurant’s electricity for consecutive failed payments. Another rumor has it that ownership doesn’t pay its employees in a timely manner, if they’re paid at all. Yet another rumor holds that the property’s landlord isn’t letting Bernie’s reopen for failure to pay rent. Lastly, a rumor holds that none of the above are true, and, in fact, Bernie’s closes periodically for renovations.

At the center of the rumor mill is Bernie’s owner Eric Kretschman, a wealthy restauranteur who has opened a small fleet of eateries within a 20-mile radius, including Bernie’s Glenside, which opened in 2015. He owns Highland Hospitality Group, which manages Bernie’s, Wexford Property Management, and is a former Montgomery County Controller.

Kretschman opened a a Bernie’s Hatboro in March 2017, and a Bernie’s Manayunk in August 2017.

Complaints about Kretschman’s business practices have ranged from TikTok videos to a article titled “Expose Eric Kretschman & Highland Hospitality LLC: Workers Wages Stolen Across All Establishments.” As of October 26, Bernie’s Hatboro was posted on the Montgomery County Sherriff Sale foreclosures list for a sum total debt of $1,933,790.84, though business owners waiting until the last minute to pay off debts is hardly an uncommon occurrence.

What’s legit, and what’s baseless hearsay?

GlensideLocal got to the bottom of the gossip, speculations and educated guesses. We spoke with five of his former employees, and one of his current employees. We tried to speak with Kretschman, but he declined.

This is Part I of what they had to say.

First, a note about the intent of this series. Launching accusations and complaints can be a double-edged sword. Negative publicity can function as a call to action and accountability, which can lead to positive outcomes. It can also divert customers, such that a restaurant boycott drives down business which results in cut hours for employees. This is not our goal; quite the opposite. If people feel called to action, they should contact the Department of Labor and ask for an investigation, or contact local representatives to express anger or frustration.

Rumor #1: Ownership doesn’t pay employees in a timely manner, if they’re paid at all.

From an anonymous current employee of Bernie’s Glenside:

He doesn’t pay servers hourly, we just get tips. But we get the tips in cash two to three weeks later because there’s no cash in the building. We don’t get paid in checks because the checks would bounce. Our old manager quit because all of his checks over a three month period bounced.

The Glenside strike began July 23 and lasted until noon that day. We posted a sign on the door and decided that we were going to go on strike because no one was being paid. Eric went berzerk. He said he’d bring to cash to pay everyone off. He had his daughter come in and serve, and had one other server later. He came in that afternoon with $3,000 in cash and paid everyone. We opened that night for dinner, and it was never brought up again. The cooks weren’t showing up, it was insane.

Eric’s a terrible businessman, but he does cares about the cooks and the staff. he’s trying to make sure that everyone has another place to go. I don’t think he’s the monster that goes with the narrative everyone’s telling. The quality of the business and the food is up to us. We care about the restaurant. We don’t want to leave each other. We’re all on a groupchat and we’re genuinely a family. We had a giant party when our manager left. We celebrate birthdays. We put hard work into it. We respect the hospitality industry. We have a really strong staff, and don’t want to be impacted by Eric’s actions. The business isn’t a reflection of him, it’s a reflection of us. We control the quality. 

We’re working hard to help Bernie’s reopen and stay open. We want to fix things. We’re getting new kitchen equipment. Now it’s more of a staffing issue because we’re losing employees, so we’re working on that as well. We want to make changes so that when we do reopen things will be an improved experience for customers and staff.

A former Bernie’s Glenside employee, who also wished to remain anonymous, had this to say:

I was one of the original group that opened in Glenside. People left after they weren’t getting paid. I was there from December 2015 until the spring of 2017, and that was after Hatboro had already opened.

In the beginning, it was great. We were a tight crew and things were running smoothly given that it was a new restaurant. We had a great, talented chef and food. He created the menu that still exists. And then at some point around the time when Hatboro opened, the money problems started. Pay checks weren’t going through. The owner came in and paid everyone in cash after someone posted about it on social media. It wasn’t happening all the time, but then it started happening more and more. They started cutting corners, and certain products weren’t available because Eric wasn’t paying the distributors. Paychecks had incorrect hourly wages assigned, and then we found out that the people paying us were part of the property management company Eric owned.

When I’d ask management about what was going on, they’d blame it on my tips. My pay stubs didn’t add up, and I meticulously kept track of my tips because I was trying to buy a home. There was a lot of tension with management, and I think it was because the owner was abusing them with his power. It was really sad. Glenside could’ve been such an amazing place if he hadn’t opened up all of these other businesses.

I heard that they don’t have backup staff, so when people call out, they don’t have anyone to replace them with. The food distributors aren’t being paid on time. The hourly employees weren’t being paid, so they got fed up and left.

From a former Bernie’s Hatboro employee, who wished to remain anonymous:

I was hired when Bernie’s was taking over a newly opened yet failing restaurant in Hatboro. There are employees that paid for health insurance only to find out it was cancelled. People are owed wages. Cooks have worked weeks and not received a check. One had to moonlight delivering groceries for my business to pay his rent because he had 0 money coming in despite working 52 hours a week at times. When he worked for me he was owed almost 350 hours of pay. When he ‘quit’ he was told he didn’t qualify for unemployment as the owner had not paid.

I went to a party at Mike’s York Bar & Grill, and they said it was the same thing there. He wasn’t paying them. I remember seeing social media posts from landscapers outside of the restaurant protesting the owner for not paying them, either. 

Ashley Nicolato worked as an assistant general manager at the Kretschman-owned Hops restaurant in the Brewerytown section of Philly from December 2019 until March 2020 when the business permanently closed. She is currently in communication with the Philadelphia Office of Worker Protections to seek their guidance and resources for current employees who have expressed concern over missed paychecks and retaliation for complaints. She said:

When I first started it became clear that there were some issues with cash flow. We had to pay vendors in cash. Everyone was very transparent about it. A lot of checks were bouncing for vendors and employees. I expressed some concerns to one of the other managers, and they assured me that it was a temporary issue. My paychecks for the first two months were fine. In February, our paychecks started bouncing, and we were told by Eric not to cash our checks at banks. Employees started getting angry phone calls and threats for legal action from the check cashing places.

Management was paid first, in cash. It happened a few times in a row, and the second time, I and the other managers started telling people to call Eric’s bank. There were weeks and weeks of bad checks. Tipped employees weren’t getting their tips as quickly as they should have been. I’m not sure if they ever got all of their money.

One day a bartender found the door locked, and we couldn’t get in. Eric assured us that the restaurant would reopen. He had been evicted by the then-owner for non-payment of rent, so she locked the door. Eric maintained that everyone had been paid. We filed with the state, city, and federal departments of labor, and the state picked up my case. I was owed one full paycheck. I finally received a check in September, and it bounced.

Margaret Meakim worked for Kretschman’s Highland Hospitality Group from October 2019 to March 2020. She said:

My title was Private Event Coordinator and I was hired to book, plan and oversee events at several of the locations, including Bernie’s Glenside, Bernie’s Hatboro, Bernie’s University City, Mike’s Bar and Grill, and Hops Brewerytown. During my time there were several occasions where employee’s checks bounced, and vendor’s checks bounced not just at one location, but almost all of them. Several times I was present when employees were “stood up” by Eric, when he claimed he was coming to one of the locations at a specific time to pay them in cash the back wages and tips they were due. The louder or more persistent an employee was about the money due to them, the more priority Eric seemed to give to that individual. The manager of the Hatboro location told me once that the employees of that location were collectively owed over $10,000 at one time.

When I was hired, I had asked about compensation/reimbursement for gas and parking. Knowing that I would be traveling quite frequently to and from all the different locations, as well as having to pay for parking in the city, I did not want to be paying for those expenses out of pocket. Eric agreed, and said that he would provide me with a company credit card. The card I was given was a reloadable debit card, a few other employees also had a similar card. There were never sufficient funds when I needed to get gas or pay for parking, which caused me to have to use my own personal debit card. I brought this up to Eric on a few occasions, and his response was always flippant and vague, more like a non-response. I never received additional compensation or reimbursement for these expenses.

Right before the pandemic hit, I was working on trying to get some back due event invoices paid to Highland from University of Penn. The manager of Bernie’s University City had recently been let go, and this was a previous responsibility of his which Eric asked me to take over and handle for him. When the lockdown was announced, Eric called a meeting for me and some of the other managers at the Glenside location. Eric told us that we were to all file for unemployment, and the restaurants were closing indefinitely. For approximately the next 10 days, Eric repeatedly called and texted me demanding that I reach out to Penn and figure out how to get the invoices paid. Having seemingly been laid off by Eric, I was working for free. The day that the wire transfer from University of Penn came through for the past due event invoices, was the last day I heard from Eric.

During the summer of 2020 I received a bill from my doctor for a routine visit and blood work I had done during January of 2020 (while I was still employed by Highland Hospitality). The bill was for roughly $600. When I called my insurance company to ask why it wasn’t covered and I had received a bill, they informed me that my insurance policy had lapsed due to unpaid premium. This means that the health insurance I had through Highland Hospitality – was not paid for by my employer. However, the money for my contribution toward my health insurance policy was still being deducted from my paycheck.

Katherine Coker worked at Bernie’s Manayunk as a waitress from May 15 to July 28, and is currently in communication with the Philadelphia Office of Worker Protections to seek their guidance and resources for current employees who have expressed concern over missed paychecks and retaliation for complaints. She said:

I started working at Bernie’s Manayunk in May, and after about a month, and we were always paid in cash. Never a paystub. I asked for my wages on a Saturday, and they didn’t have them. I’ve worked for restaurants before, but I was at a loss for how to handle the situation. I ended up being paid late, but two weeks later, and it happened again. I asked the manager, and he didn’t have an answer.

Then the same thing happened again. And at one point, the whole restaurant went on strike because no one had gotten paid. It went on for five days until everyone was paid. I had heard that the same day we went on strike, Bernie’s in Glenside also went on strike. My manager showed me the sign in the window. It was about unfair wage compensation. Bernie’s in Glenside was only on strike for three hours because a manager drove down that day and paid everyone.

This issue of wage theft is still occurring at his restaurants. Multiple employees of Mike’s York Street had their checks bounce, including the chef. They told me that they quit. I was on strike for two weeks, and as soon as I got paid, I promptly quit. There aren’t a lot of legal avenues that we as employees can take. We’re just trying to earn a living.

Does Bernie’s Glenside pay their staff in a timely manner, if they’re paid at all? You decide.

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