May 19, 2022

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The home veterans

Boise Hyde House restaurant closes, employee paychecks bounce

7 min read


Hyde House in Boise’s North End has closed and employees have said their last paychecks bounced.

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At first, Sumer Bracero thought it was just a moment of forgetfulness.

The prep cook at Boise restaurant Hyde House said she had been expecting her paycheck on Friday, April 15, but was told by her boss that she’d forgotten it at home.

“So Saturday morning, I was like, ‘Did you bring my paycheck?’ ‘No,’ ” Bracero, 19, said in a phone interview with the Idaho Statesman. “So I was like, ‘OK, like there are no banks open anyways, it’s fine.’ Sunday morning. ‘Did you get my paycheck?’ ‘No.’ ”

On Monday, April 18, Hyde House owner Cynthia Sauer finally brought in the check, Bracero said, but it was payment for one day of work. Bracero said she worked four days that week.

Bracero deposited that check — only to find out five days later that the check had bounced. She said she later learned that her co-workers’ checks had also bounced. Bracero said she is now owed more than $700 for 39 hours and 42 minutes of work.

On April 20, Hyde House staff received an unexpected text from Sauer letting them know that the North End restaurant on 13th Street had closed, “effective immediately.” She promised to “make it right” when it came to their back pay, according to multiple text messages that former employees shared with the Statesman.

Now, employees say she won’t return their calls and messages.

“The labor department did call me and they told me that she is not picking up any phone calls,” Bracero said. “She turned her number off. She’s not texting me back. She’s totally avoiding the situation.”

The Idaho Department of Labor confirmed to the Statesman that wage claims have been made by former employees and the department is in the fact-finding process.

Neither Sauer nor her daughter Shelby Swanstrom, who co-owns the restaurant, returned the Statesman’s requests for comment.

Social services workers also faced serious issues

This is not the first time Sauer has been involved in this kind of controversy; in fact, it’s the third time in two years, according to former employees of other businesses.

Living Resources of Idaho, Sauer’s Garden City company that provided services to people who were physically or developmentally disabled, had its certificate of operation revoked by the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare in July 2020. The department’s revocation letter stated that the company failed to do several things that were legally required, including maintain records, conduct background checks, train employees, undergo competency review and record patients’ medication needs.

Former Living Resources employee Karen Rush, 52, told the Statesman that she tried to schedule a surgery but was told by the hospital that she did not have health insurance.

“I was like, ‘Yes, I do, I pay every month for insurance,’ ” Rush said. “(Living Resources of Idaho) hadn’t been paying their insurance. We’d all been dropped and hadn’t been told.”

Cedric Richard, who worked as a supervisor for four years, said Sauer began paying some employees in handwritten checks that did not include pay stubs around March 2020, and provided copies to the Statesman.

“It wasn’t until I had to go to the emergency room for chest pain that I found out Cynthia hadn’t paid the insurance company,” Richard said. “We ended up paying the full ER bill.”

Richard said money for his insurance premium was taken out of his check even after he was no longer covered. He said he confronted Sauer and she agreed to write a check covering the premiums that had been deducted.

Ashley Leonard, another former Living Resources employee, said Sauer canceled employee health insurance “without even informing us.”

Rush said she spent six weeks hounding Sauer for her last $600 paycheck, and got it only after threatening legal action. The business still owes her more than $200 in gas mileage reimbursement and another $200 for a bonus she was promised if she stayed until the last day, Rush said.

Rae Richard, who said she was the lead program manager and provided information to Health and Welfare, told the Statesman that she saw records of a number of employees who had their checks bounce. Rae said she once gave about $700 of her personal money to an employee who wasn’t being paid.

Several former employees told the Statesman that they did not receive W-2 tax forms. Sauer told Rush that “no W-2s are being sent” and Rush would “unfortunately need to estimate,” according to a message Rush showed the Statesman.

Rush said the events surrounding Living Resources of Idaho eventually led her to leave her 32-year career in the health field. She now works at Walmart.

Resolved and ongoing court cases against Living Resources of Idaho include:

  • A case in which the company was ordered to pay $32,752 to the National Service Bureau collection agency.

  • An ongoing case in which workers’ compensation insurance company Idaho State Insurance Fund is seeking $7,423.

  • Small claims cases by individuals for smaller amounts of money.

Coffee shop opens, quickly closes

On Dec. 1, Sauer held the grand opening of her new coffee shop, called Hyde House on Fairview. She shuttered the place less than two months later.

Located inside a rented portion of the Boise Bistro Market, sole employee Andrea Ayala, 21, said she was expected to run the coffee shop by herself, including online advertising, picking out decor and preparing for the grand opening — all for $8 an hour. The owners, Sauer and Swanstrom, were rarely there, Ayala said.

“I didn’t really have a checklist or anything,” Ayala said. “It was really up to me to figure it out.”

She said she is still owed almost $1,000 for hours she worked but never got paid for at the coffee shop.

Early warning signs at North End spot?

An indication that Hyde House might be in trouble came in October, when a handwritten note appeared on the restaurant’s door.

“Unfortunately, we had unforeseen labor shortages and will not be open tonight,” the note read. “We will be open Wednesday!”

A second note soon followed and went viral on local social media channels — but it wasn’t written by the owners: “Actually, we wrote bad payroll checks and the whole front of house staff quit!”

Former employee Skye Mcgehee, 24, told the Statesman that she and at least two other people quit in October when their paychecks bounced. According to Mcgehee, the second note was written by a family member of someone who quit. Those employees were eventually paid, she said.

Restaurant employees struggling

Bracero and other Hyde House employees say there are about 15 employees who still have wages owed. They have been figuring out their next moves in a messaging group.

Employees showed the Statesman documents that the paychecks bounced for “not sufficient funds.” Several of them told the Statesman that they spent all or part of the money, which initially appeared in their account, before it was flagged by the banks. One former Hyde House worker said her account went $500 in the hole.

Many of the former employees are young. Michael Engelman and Safije LaPointe, both 18, were employees who recently began renting their first place. They are missing about $900 apiece in unpaid labor, they said. Engelman said he has had to cover rent with money he received through an education grant that he had set aside for classes at the College of Western Idaho, where he hopes to get an occupational therapy degree.

LaPointe’s parents said the situation has been difficult. Her stepfather has set up a GoFundMe for the nine employees who have gotten in touch with him.

“This is really the first job that she’s had that’s totally self-supporting,” Rich Connelly said. “And to have the rug pulled out from under her, in such an egregious way, has been really, really, really difficult.”

Seller ‘devastated’ over restaurant’s problems

The Hyde House restaurant was first opened by North End resident Jill Monteith and her family in 2016. They sold it to Sauer and Swanstrom at the end of 2020, and the pair took over in January 2021.

Monteith, who still owns the building, said it has been difficult to watch the reputation of Hyde House become damaged.

“Our first priority was always treating customers and our employees like family,” Monteith said in a Facebook message to the Statesman. “In our decision to sell, we thought passing it along to another family team would be best for the community. We are devastated and extremely disappointed (that) this is the outcome.”

Monteith said she carried the majority of the loan for Sauer and Swanstrom’s restaurant purchase. She declined to say whether she had spoken with the mother and daughter or what her next steps would be.

This story was originally published May 3, 2022 3:51 PM.

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Reporter Sally Krutzig covers local government, growth and breaking news for the Idaho Statesman. She previously covered the Idaho State Legislature for the Post Register.





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