Both Tasty Buddha restaurants close, head into bankruptcy
Published: Tuesday, October 8, 2013 at 12:51 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, October 8, 2013 at 10:11 p.m.
Both Tasty Buddha locations in Gainesville closed for business shortly after opening time at 11 a.m. Tuesday and will be going into bankruptcy, owner Parker Van Hart said.
Van Hart said the restaurants were unable to overcome the bad publicity from an employee strike in July, with revenue down about $100,000 since then. Before that, he said the business was making progress on debt that shrank from $250,000 to $75,000.
Employees said they were told they would not be paid for the last two weeks of work.
The Florida Department of Revenue seized Tasty Buddha's bank account late last week after Van Hart said he used sales tax money to pay employees. He said the Department of Revenue wouldn't negotiate because he went into default on a previous agreement.
With the account frozen, he was unable to pay employees and buy food.
He said his intention was to open for business Tuesday, close a little early and have a going-away party at which the employees could drink the rest of the beer. He was going to pay them in equipment and any cash on hand, "but it looks like now because somebody blabbed to all the employees, they're walking out, so I'm going to lock my doors right now," he said shortly after 11 a.m.
A handful of employees of the Tasty Buddha West location at 2410 NW 43rd St. went on strike for a week in July after some of their paychecks bounced, saying they were protesting that and prior bounced checks, broken equipment and harassment.
The strike ended with an agreement for a bounced check fee and a grievance policy, but Van Hart said public opinion had already turned against him because an employee "decided that it would be cool if she could practice starting a strike."
The employees who went on strike started the Gainesville Restaurant Workers Alliance.
"It's ironic, because I'm a flaming liberal and I love unions," he said.
The employee, server Marissa Jane Pollack, said Van Hart cursed at her after closing the business Tuesday.
She said it was absurd for him to blame the strike for the restaurants' demise.
"That week was not responsible for the downfall. It was managed poorly, which is why we went on strike, because they couldn't handle their payroll properly," Pollack said.
Cook Morris Sherman said parking lot construction the week after the strike caused some people to think the business was closed while some customers' vehicles were towed after parking at the nearby CVS.
The Department of Revenue filed liens against Tasty Buddha in January and again in August. Van Hart said he took out a loan to satisfy the January liens, he has nearly paid off overdue sales taxes and he has gone deep into personal debt.
"We have some other outstanding loans we'll have to take care of in bankruptcy. The Department of Revenue will be taken care of, so I don't go to jail.
"I'm probably going to lose my house because of this," Van Hart said.
Van Hart bought an existing Steamers restaurant near campus in 2005 and opened what was then called Buddha Belly at 25 NW 16th Ave. in 2007.
"My fatal flaw was that I opened a restaurant a month before Wall Street collapsed," he said. "My other mistake was trying to keep it floating long enough to bring it back."
In 2011, he renamed the business Tasty Buddha and opened the second location with plans to franchise, while closing Steamers.
Asked if he wanted to say anything else, Van Hart replied, "Thank you to all the people that supported me and believed in me, and to the rest of you folks, screw you. I walk away with my head held high knowing I tried everything I could possibly try and that I did what I could."