New Sovereign owner fires staff, will renovate


Published: Wednesday, January 3, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 2, 2007 at 10:57 p.m.

By midnight Sunday, The Sovereign restaurant faded into memory with 2006 as new co-owner Bert Gill fired the staff, offering them applications to work for a new restaurant to open in its stead.

Facts

Restaurant shakeup

  • The Sovereign restaurant closed in 2006, and co-owner Bert Gill fired the staff. They were told they could re-apply for their jobs.
  • After a couple weeks of cleaning and redecorating, the new restaurant, called Bert Gill's, will open at 12 SE 2nd Ave.
  • Gill closed the deal Sunday night to buy Mildred's Big City Food and New Deal Cafe from Nancy Oscarson and Russell Baum.

After a couple weeks of cleaning and redecorating, the new restaurant, called Bert Gill's, will open at the 12 SE 2nd Ave. location. Gill said his eatery will offer fresh food with an Italian spin, emphasizing locally grown produce.

Gill said he also closed the deal Sunday night to buy Mildred's Big City Food and New Deal Cafe from Nancy Oscarson and Russell Baum. Gill has served as head chef there.

He said he does not plan to make any changes there.

That is not the case at his new restaurant, which he bought with Mildred's General Manager Ryan Todd in early December from Morton Levin of Wellington.

Former employees say Gill called a meeting at 11:45 p.m. Sunday to tell them they were fired and were given new menus and job applications.

Elmo and Lupe Moser, who Levin brought from California to run The Sovereign 30 years ago, said they were not given applications.

Elmo Moser said there was nothing unusual about employees being fired from a dissolved business and asked to apply for the new one, but he thought that should have been communicated from the start. He also said he was "not very enchanted" about not receiving an application, which he took as a strong hint.

"It was done very cold, very heartless, but I guess he's a businessman and he's younger and I guess he thinks that's the way to treat people," Lupe Moser said.

Gill said he thought the Mosers were given applications and if they weren't, it was an oversight. However, he said The Sovereign has been losing money for years.

"After the last few weeks of watching them work, obviously it was a poorly managed business," Gill said. "Somebody has to be responsible for it. It wasn't my fault that the business has been up for sale and anybody had an opportunity to buy this company. That's a reality of business."

"It was up to them to eventually weed us out if we didn't fit in," said former employee Maude Wilson, who has been on maternity leave. "I think we all expected that, but no one was expecting it on New Year's Eve after the two biggest days of the year. I think they used the experienced staff to get them through the two biggest days — New Year's and Christmas Eve — and now that they're in a slow season, they can use people they have handpicked themselves."

Other former employees did not return calls for comment Tuesday.

Gill said Levin asked him to keep the staff through December, and the reason for meeting at the end of the night was because the entire staff was there.

He said former employees have already applied and interviewed, and he would be bringing employees from Mildred's to help the new venture.

The Mosers said they had been told they would be handling lunches.

"I know a lot of people would like us to start our own restaurant," Lupe Moser said. "I have had offers of money. At this point, I don't know."

Gill said they are painting and putting in new light fixtures, carpet, a bar top and chairs. He said he is also getting rid of items on a wooden shelf and is cleaning.

"The place hasn't been cleaned in 15 years," he said. "It is phenomenal how dirty it is in here."

A founder of the North Florida Food Partnership, Gill said he buys a lot of local and organic food, including fruits and vegetables, fish from Cedar Key, St. Augustine or Mayport and uses the University of Florida meat processing facility to process local animals.

Gill is featured on WCJB TV 20 on Friday evenings, cooking with ingredients grown locally.

He said he has had tremendous support to help redecorate from local designers and the community.

"It's really hard to believe that people would give so much to us to help us through this project," Gill said. "I think it's indicative of our base as a community business, as a private business, not a corporation, not a chain, and the fact that we're willing to take a risk to take this old building and transform it into a new full-speed restaurant that people are drawn to and want to dine in. Our goal is to have a restaurant that we're proud of and Gainesville can be proud of."

Anthony Clark can be reached at anthony.clark@gvillesun.com or (352) 374-5094."It was done very cold, very heartless, but I guess he's a businessman and he's younger and I guess he thinks that's the way to treat people."

LUPE MOSER

Who ran The Sovereign

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