La Presse dropped a substantial investigation into the restaurant group MTL Cuisine over the weekend, detailing a host of alleged problems at the company, from bankruptcies to tens of thousands of dollars in alleged unpaid wages.
The group is known for a now-crumbled empire of Old Montreal restaurants, including establishments like Les 400 Coups, Tapas 24, and Nolana (all of which are now closed).
In the piece — which is worth reading in full — reporters Émilie Bilodeau and Iris Gagnon-Paradis trace many of the problems to the father-son duo at the head of the restaurant group: Jorge Da Silva Sr. and Jorge Da Silva Jr. That pair have since cut ties with each other, and the various accusations and issues outlined in the piece are directed primarily towards Da Silva Sr.
There’s a long list of people quoted in the piece who say that MTL Cuisine and Da Silva Sr. owe them money, including both former employees and business partners. Here are some nuggets to note:
- After the Da Silvas brought in big-name Spanish chef Carlos Abellan to open restaurant Tapas 24, Abellan was allegedly owed 100,000 Euros for expenses such as travel between Canada and Europe, which were requirements of Abellan’s contract with the Da Silvas.
- Abellan claims he was given checks that bounced. Da Silva Jr. told La Presse that his father said he couldn’t pay Abellan because the Euro became too strong.
- Radio host Benoît Gagnon and chef Martin Juneau, who were the faces of former McGill Street restaurant Commerce, both say they are owed money — Juneau gave up on trying to obtain it, while Gagnon launched a lawsuit for $10,000 and later abandoned it.
- Gagnon told La Presse that he believed Da Silva Sr. and Jr. were primarily motivated to “put cash in their pockets” above all else.
- When Commerce closed, MTL Cuisine allegedly stopped paying rent that was still owed, and even removed fixtures like sinks and toilets that belonged to the building (a judge found that the landlord was owed nearly $240,000).
- Quebec’s labour board, the Normes du Travail, received 28 complaints against Da Silva Sr’s restaurants, and eventually attempted to pursue Da Silva Sr for unpaid wages totaling $92,700 for 52 employees.
- Despite being critically acclaimed, restaurant Les 400 Coups had its own host of troubles — wine supplier Bacchus 76 says it wasn’t paid for products it supplied.
- Right before the demise of Les 400 Coups, La Presse reports that Da Silva Sr. stopped communicating with staff — suspecting that they weren’t going to be paid, the restaurant’s staff made the decision to close down the restaurant themselves.
- An employee at that point told La Presse he was issued checks that were later cancelled before they were deposited.
The piece also outlines a hefty range of financial issues within MTL Cuisine and on the part of Da Silva Sr. himself, including a litany of unpaid taxes. Some of the key takeaways include:
- Revenu Québec and a judge stripped former Portuguese restaurant Taberna of its right to do business after the provincial tax agency discovered that the restaurant and others in the group owed $1.7 million in taxes (plus over $400,000 more that were personally owed by Da Silva Sr.).
- At least five MTL Cuisine restaurants declared bankruptcy in the space of a few months in late 2016 to early 2017 — Osteria Venti, Racines, Les 400 Coups, Tapas 24, and Tapas 24 Snack Bar.
- Around the same time, Da Silva Sr. also declared a personal bankruptcy with some $2.4 million in debt. The trustee in that case also claimed that before the bankruptcy, Da Silva Sr. transferred one of his properties to a trust in order to protect it from being seized.
Da Silva. Sr. and his lawyer declined to give a statement to La Presse; Da Silva Jr. did comment, saying that he did not always act appropriately, but also noting that he left the company in 2016, and never had the ability to issue checks on behalf of the company.