ATLANTA — The fallout continues from the sudden closure of three popular restaurants. One of them is Soul Crab Cafe in College Park.
A major television network has now gotten involved in the controversy and a celebrity chef is speaking out.
Scripps Media lodged a copyright complaint against the restaurant owner to make sure he isn’t tied to one of the Food Network’s popular personalities, Sunny Anderson.
A decade-old YouTube clip of celebrity chefs Anderson and Darius Williams disappeared late Friday morning after Food Network executives launched the copyright complaint to distance Anderson, a former host, from Williams’ brand and new restaurant controversy.
“I hope in the near future he is not able to gain ad revenue on YouTube from this and then also use this as a way to substantiate himself in a business where we see he has some questionable practices,” Anderson said.
Williams said there’s nothing questionable about the way he found himself owing the state of Georgia for an illegal credit repair business or the way he abruptly shut down Soul Crab Atlanta and Chicago and the Westview’s Greens and Gravy Monday morning.
“I’m just really upset because he’s not trying to get back in touch with us and I just have a lot of questions I want to ask, and there’s no way for me to get back in touch with him,” said a former employee who wanted to remain unidentified.
On Friday, employees told Channel 2 investigative reporter Nicole Carr that they learned of the closure a half hour before opening when Williams posted to social media that his mental health led to the abrupt closures.
Employees received paychecks Tuesday, but are anxious about whether the final ones are coming.
“We’re just wondering how the chips are going to fall,” said another employee who also wanted to remain unidentified. “He’s on social media pretending like everything’s OK when he has three restaurants worth of people, worth of families, still confused days later.”
Williams says he has the money. He and his attorney deny the $145,000 state settlement has anything to do with the restaurant closures.
Williams also denies Anderson’s allegations about another business fallout. She said she fielded consumer complaints that Williams charged for a food delivery service that he didn’t deliver.
Because he’d been on her show, they thought she could contact him.
“The number changed. He went silent and the next thing I’d heard, he’d skipped town,” Anderson said.
In a phone interview Friday, Williams told Carr he didn’t block Anderson and denied the alleged complaints.
“Listen Nicole, businesses close all the time. Walmarts close all the time,” he said.
And regarding his restaurant employees…
“We’re up-to-date on taxes. We’re up-to-date on unemployment insurance. These same employees can walk right into the unemployment office, file a claim for unemployment insurance and be taken care of until they find additional employees,” Williams said.
“Hopefully, Atlanta will wrap its arms around these (employees) and there will be some places for them to find some work because I just can’t imagine. I can’t imagine being out of work,” Anderson said.
Business with paychecks, vendors and leases
Carr asked Williams about a number of business matters that need to be addressed in the coming weeks.
Williams assured Carr that employees won’t have any problems receiving final paychecks. Carr asked about a business licensing dissolution notice from the State of Georgia for Soul Crab, dated August 2019. It was noted in a Channel 2 report earlier this week.
He said he’d restructured payroll at the time, so that everyone would be paid under the Greens and Gravy, LLC.
“You will make payroll on Tuesday?” Carr asked.
“Absolutely. Absolutely. Why would I not?” Williams asked.
A couple of hours after the conversation, employees began sending Carr Williams’ late Friday afternoon message.
In it, he advised that a banking holiday (President’s Day), along with a payroll system change would delay paychecks by a couple of days.
“This is two days later than originally expected,” the notice read. "I do apologize in advance for the inconvenience.”
On February 11, Atlanta Westview Holdings LLC sent Williams a notice that they’d been made aware he’d gone against a lease agreement and vacated the property unexpectedly.
One of the partners told Carr that he’d met with employees and advised them on how to navigate the Department of Labor should there be a payroll dispute down the road.
He confirmed he’s made contact with Williams, but declined to discuss how the group is moving forward with vacating the property.
Williams told Carr that his lease with the last owner ended on December 31, and he wasn’t occupying the property under a new deal. He said the groups would work out an exit strategy.
Williams also said he’d been in contact with a beverage vendor that posted a notice regarding equipment removal on Soul Crab Atlanta’s window.
As for employees, Williams doesn’t have plans to meet face-to-face with them, describing a crew app technology to keep in touch.
He admitted that some of his social media commentary about abruptly letting them go can be considered insensitive, but says he’s maintained legal obligations to them.
“My mental health really took a toll on me and If I didn’t take a minute to handle this, and something detrimental happened to me tomorrow, it’s the exact same result,” he added.
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