The saga of Hi Felicia, the ambitious, short-lived Oakland restaurant borne out of a pandemic pop-up, owned by one-named 26-year-old restaurateur Imana, continues this week with a report that the defunct business is now on the hook for $105,000 in back pay to former employees.
It was all the way back in May that Hi Felicia closed its doors, after just a year in business on Webster Street in Oakland. We soon learned that, behind the scenes, the restaurant was beset by financial troubles as well as employee unrest, stemming in part from the alleged inappropriate behavior by owner Imana.
And now, five months on, the Chronicle reports that Imana is being ordered to pay $105,000 in restitution to former employees, over violations of the voter-approved Measure FF from 2014. That measure both raised the city's minimum wage and decreed that hospitality industry employees should receive 100% of all service charges charged to customers.
A former Hi Felicia employee clearly brought a complaint to the city, showing that the policy outlined in the restaurant's employee handbook stated that half of the 20% service charge added to every bill would go directly to workers, and the other half would supplement higher wages for all employees.
The City of Oakland said that "after a close review of Hi Felicia’s service charge policy, employee testimony, employer testimony, review of records submitted by Hi Felicia, and the representative bookkeeper, that Hi Felicia’s service charge policy and practices do not comport with the requirements of Measure FF."
This leaves Imana with 45 days in which to pay $105,555.36 to those former employees.
Imana took to Instagram on Wednesday to state her case, saying, "Had I known in the beginning how Oakland defines service charge, I of course would have never opted in, and just done minimum wage and tips."
She goes on to explain that employees at the restaurant were paid between $20 and $45 per hour — well above the city's $13.50 minimum wage — and that half of the service charge on customer checks went to support these wages.
"My rationale being, I don't think it's fair for an AM prep person or dishwasher to only make minimum wage when [front-of-house staff] walks away with 3x that," Imana writes.
She adds that it was an employee "making almost $45 an hour" who called the city of Oakland to complain about the policy. And she says it's "infuriating" to find out that she could have saved nearly $100 per hour in labor costs every day if she had known the city had this policy. And she says she "of course will be appealing" the city's determination.
The remainder of the multi-slide post details some of the personal struggles Imana says she faced after closing the restaurant, and how she is now 30 days sober.
"I didn't realize what being a public figure meant, and now I know very clearly," Imana writes. "It means an onslaught of public opinion, it means hyper scrutiny."
Imana continues to own and operate Sluts wine bar in SF's SoMa neighborhood, which opened last winter.