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Hamburger Mary’s staff confused as renos close diner

New owner Phil Moon says no severance pay needed for temporary layoffs

Hamburger Mary’s diner has been a fixture in Vancouver’s Davie Village for 35 years.  Credit: Niko Bell

The new owner of Hamburger Mary’s restaurant has decided to shut down the Davie Street landmark for renovations, giving his staff less than one week notice, according to employees. Phil Moon also told Daily Xtra he would not be giving his staff severance pay when they find themselves out of a job for two months starting on Monday, March 16.

Moon bought Hamburger Mary’s, a diner with 35 years of history in Vancouver’s gay community, four months ago, with the intention to renovate. He told his staff he was waiting on permits from the city, but employees never learned when their jobs would end until Wednesday, March 11. That’s when a note from the manager appeared in the staff logbook: “Everyone! I have confirmed with Phil that the last day of work will be this Sunday, the 15th.”

“We were sure we would be given ample notice and we would be taken care of,” says server Justin Meisner. “We’re all really confused here. We’re in the dark.”

Meisner says he and other servers did not know if they would be getting their jobs back after the renovation, or if they would receive severance pay. Other employees interviewed by Daily Xtra confirmed that no official notice was given, and that employees were confused about what would happen next. Meisner alleges that many of the staff were too intimidated to ask Moon directly, after questions were repeatedly rebuffed.

Meisner says he didn’t find out that Moon planned to hire the staff back until he read it in the Georgia Straight on Friday, March 13. In the Straight article, Moon says he plans to upgrade the diner and replace equipment to make the place “more like Milestones,” and that the staff would be rehired.

Meisner says that’s the first he heard of it. “It’s really frustrating to read on a website that your job is secure when you haven’t been told yourself,” he says.

Moon also told the Straight that he bought the diner “to save it for this community. I’m 77 years old. I didn’t have to buy this to try and save it for this community but I did for the simple reason I don’t want another sushi bar on this corner.”

When Daily Xtra called Moon for comment, he denied his staff were in the dark about their job changes. “I don’t know why they would say that,” he said. “I talk to them a lot, and they all know they have a job.”

When pressed about when exactly he had informed his staff, he said, “Whenever I talk with them. They know that’s why I bought the place.”

Moon also told Daily Xtra he had no plans to give his staff severance pay for the two months they will be laid off during renovations. “There’s no severance when you get laid off just for a period of time, and most of them have only worked for me for four months anyway,” he says. “It’s not a big deal anyway.”

According to BC labour law, employees who have worked more than three months are owed severance pay. The law also says any layoff, including a temporary layoff, is eligible for severance. Meisner, who has worked at Hamburger Mary’s for five years, would be owed five weeks pay when he leaves.

When Daily Xtra asked Moon about the law on severance, he said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about, and I don’t know why you’re bothering me with this shit.”

Meisner says he won’t return to Hamburger Mary’s now, whether Moon offers or not. “I’ll look back at my time there fondly,” Meisner says, “but if this is any preview of what it will be like when it reopens, I’m not going to be there to find out.”

Moon is well known in the West End bar community for opening or having a stake in a number of long-standing establishments, like Numbers, the granddaddy of Davie Street clubs that he opened in 1980, as well as the former Oasis lounge, the Luv Affair in what is now Yaletown, and the Fountainhead Pub.