"Not eating chard. That's what all those weirdos eat at their stupid picnics on the Hungry Ghost lawn." -Nina

October 03, 2007

Sparky's All American Food Closes, Leaves Trouble In It's Wake

First noted at Northamptonists' Twitter page, after walking by on Monday morning to find it closed, and then again at The Local Buzz, a blog at MassLive written by Greg Saulmon, sources have since confirmed to me that Sparky's owners' Melissa L. and Brian A. Benavidez have indeed closed suddenly after finding a new owner, giving employees only hours notice. The doors are locked, the windows are now papered over, and the inside is dark and getting empty.

Sparky's opened on Main St. in Northampton at the beginning of this year, after first finding success in Willimasburg, Brooklyn, and then in Manhattan. Offering local products, free range animals, and a stated commitment to the community, the prices for hot dogs, hamburgers, and french fries were sold at a premium. The hot dogs might cost four dollars, but it was "guilt free", because that four dollars was your contribution to a more just and equitable world. Sparky's had a reputation as "a great little mom n pop burger shop serving family-farmed organically-raised chow."

People have claimed that in Sparky's final weeks, among other allegations, they were not paying their employees, and when doing so, paid late or with bad checks. Apparently concerned in this atmosphere about being able to retain employees at the business to keep the shop running, if the employees were privy to the owners' plan on selling quickly, it seems that a decision was made to not tell the employees about the pending sale until after the fact. As Greg reported at The Local Buzz, it is alleged that the owner changed the locks on Sunday, Sept. 30th, called the manager that night, and told him to tell the employees not to bother showing up for work on Monday, because the business is closed.

If indeed true, though able to appreciate a business owners' concern about retaining employees when looking to sell a business, opting to keep that a secret from them and denying them the choice to make a responsible decision about their future plans for employment -and in the process potentially causing sudden and unexpected financial difficulties for loyal employees- is an action hard to justify. Other options, such as offering an incentive to stay until the end, or just simply being honest, were two possibilities to be employed. The alleged treatment of employees at Sparky's in Northampton stands in stark contrast to the owners' oft stated compassion and respect for the animals that were the source of Sparky's expensive fare. "The cows 'roam free in a beautiful pasture'...Benavidez says the idea of starting a small restaurant business in his neighborhood appealed to his desire to give something back."

"Brian Benavidez wanted to focus on environmentally sound food that would be affordable to everyone. He is committed to using local ingredients, which is why his dogs are custom-made for him in the Catskills, using grass-fed, hormone-free beef. He offers all-natural toppings too, like homemade ketchup." A hot dog, fries, and Coke would set you back about $10 dollars at Sparky's, money you were hoped to feel good spending based on their progressive, altruistic, and compassionate views.

At Sparky's, the seemingly cared about the animals. They cared about the environment. They cared about the local economy. It appears that they didn't extend that same concern to their employees. When it came time for the owners to really put that compassion and altruism to practice with regard to their employees, with the related costs that reasonably involves, it looks like they balked. Maybe it was difficult for the owners of Sparky's to see any personal economic value in allowing their employees a right to make a decision on the best course of action for their own individual well-being, and decided on an unfortunate course of action instead. One that mandated a course of action the employees were, without consultation, required to take, and that was economically harmful to them. One that minimized the costs involved to Brian and Melissa as owners, instead opting to let the community they left to share in the responsibility of bearing those costs.

As this reviewer on Yelp states, at the page for the Manhattan location of Sparky's,

If i could give zero stars to Sparky's, I would. They deserve a bad rep---- not for their food, but for their business practices. The owners opened a Sparky's location in Northampton Massachusetts. In the past three weeks they bounced paychecks for all their employees. Then they came in the middle of the night, and changed all the locks on the building. When the workers showed up to open the store, they were suddenly out of a job. No one is able to retrieve their personal belongings from the locked building. Brian and Melissa gave no notice of closure, and now owe a substantial amount of money to their employees for the bounced paychecks and subsequent bank fees, paychecks that were shorted hours, and all the hours worked before Sparky's shut down in the middle of the night. Several employees are now unable to pay their rent. Brian and Melissa's irresponsible and disrespectful behavior has put hardworking employees and their families in financial jeopardy. The complete lack of respect shown to all of the workers----- bounced paychecks, no notice of their closure (hence, no time to find another job), and refusal to contact employees regarding financial reimbursement------ is a damn good reason to refuse to support this business.
And from the comments at The Local Buzz, comes a similar comment -possibly from the same person- who adds a little more detail. "It is possible that sometime in the near future that there will be police reports filed for the bad checks, and that they will be taken to court for the money that is owed to their employees."

Sparky's, All American? It would seem so.

I am hoping to have more information on this soon. More details as they arrive.

LABELS: downtown, citizen journalism,