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Hamburger Mary’s lost 68 staff in three months, say ex-managers

Ex-staff say working conditions, pay, treatment drove them away

Hamburger Mary’s, a fixture in Vancouver’s Davie Village for decades, sits on the corner of the new Jim Deva Plaza. Credit: Niko Bell/Daily Xtra

Hamburger Mary’s has burned through almost 70 staff since it reopened in May 2016, according to three ex-managers.

The restaurant’s former front-of-house manager, kitchen manager and general manager tell Daily Xtra that working conditions, pay and treatment by the owner were intolerable for workers. The staffing problems, they say, led to Hamburger Mary’s running out of food during Pride, and closing for a week shortly after.

Staffing is only the latest problem in a turbulent three years for Hamburger Mary’s. In 2014, prolific West End developer Phil Moon bought the diner, which has nearly 40 years of history in the Davie Village. He closed it for renovations, saying at the time it would reopen in two months, but left the doors closed for over a year. Moon then reopened Hamburger Mary’s in May of this year, only to lose a lawsuit to his former employees for failing to pay severance and breaking a promise to rehire staff.

Ian Christie was Moon’s general manager from the reopening until August, when he says he quit. As the manager responsible for hiring new staff, he says he carefully counted how many employees quit Hamburger Mary’s on the restaurant’s computer system. When he walked out the doors, he says he was the 68th — a number corroborated by former kitchen manager Lloyd Miner and former front-of-house manager Brent Simpson.

Daily Xtra left multiple messages for Moon at the diner but he hasn’t yet responded to requests for comment on this story.

Christie alleges the problem came down to Moon, now 78 years old, who would take a seat in the diner each afternoon and criticize the staff as they worked. If Moon didn’t like a server, Christie alleges, he would tell Christie to fire him — orders Christie says he always ignored.

If the kitchen staff complained, Moon would yell at them, Christie says. “He was just treating people very poorly. He was very disrespectful,” he alleges.

Miner, meanwhile, says he saw six chefs quit in the course of a month, allegedly because of poor treatment by Moon. He was hired as a manager at only $13.50, he says, but was expected to sometimes put in over 60 hours of work a week in the diner.

The friction in Hamburger Mary’s came to a head during Pride, the former managers say. The diner’s latest chef had just quit, they say, taking most of the kitchen staff with him. The new staff was unprepared for the Pride rush, but Moon wanted the diner open anyway.

Without adequate preparation, they say, the kitchen promptly ran out of food.

“On one hand, I felt like I didn’t want to give him a heart attack if I argued with him,” Christie says. “But then he wanted to open up for Pride. It was chaos. After that I lost half my staff.”

After Pride, Hamburger Mary’s shut down for a week. Word had got out about conditions at the diner, Christie says, and he suddenly found it impossible to fill positions. Front-of-house manager Simpson, along with Christie and Miner, demanded a meeting with Moon to talk about the staffing problem. Moon, they say, wouldn’t meet. All three decided to get out.

“You don’t want to go down when the ship is going down,” Christie says.

Miner says his time at Hamburger Mary’s was especially disappointing because he has worked with Moon in the past, in the kitchen at the Fountainhead Pub. While Moon has always been tight with money, he says, it has never been this bad. 

“This experience with Phil Moon was far different than I had the first time,” he says.

Now, he says, he would warn anyone away from working for Moon.