THE INVESTIGATORS: Employees claim Sammy’s Grill issues bad checks amid ongoing financial issues
BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Sammy’s Grill is a Baton Rouge icon, long-known for serving up hearty meals, alcohol, and a family-friendly atmosphere, but some employees at the restaurant says it’s slowly becoming known for something a little less appetizing: writing back checks.
“You know that the money and the funds are not in the bank for all of us to be able to cash checks at the time, so yeah, that’s basically like issuing a worthless check," an employee said.
An employee, whose identity WAFB chose to protect for the sake of their job, claims people who work there used to get paid through direct deposit. A few months ago, that ended and they were given paper checks instead. Not long after the company started cutting those paper checks, the employee says things took a bad turn.
"It's hard to be motivated to get up and go back to work knowing that you're having to deal with financial issues," the employee said.
A notice the employee received from Citizen’s Bank & Trust shows where their paycheck bounced. According to the document, the check was issued by SCC Holding, Inc., the company that manages Sammy’s Grill. The bank listed non-sufficient funds as the reason the check was returned.
“You know you have bills that are due and you can't pay them when you need to or whenever you get your check," the employee said.
WAFB’s Scottie Hunter asked the worker what management has said to try to explain the situation to employees.
“They’ve asked us just to be patient,” the employee answered.
According to the worker, it’s not the first time they have been given a check from the company which they say ended badly. They allege their paycheck from the end of September also bounced at the bank. The worker says they have gone to at least ten different places to get their checks cashed, only to be turned away.
"It's very embarrassing having to go in a place knowing that nine times out of ten, they're going to turn you right back around and tell you there's nothing they're going to be able to do with that check," the employee said.
After getting another check Monday, Sept. 30, the worker claims they finally got the money six days late, on Saturday, when Sammy’s cashed the check for them at the restaurant.
"Nobody should have to wait six days to be able to cash a check," the employee said.
The 9News Investigators obtained copies of emails sent to staff that appear to show top management addressing the situation directly and asking employees to be patient.
Nearly a dozen folks who claim they work at Sammy’s Grill or Creole Cabana, also owned by the company, have reached out to WAFB recently with similar allegations. WAFB’s Scottie Hunter took those complaints to Sammy Nagem, owner of the business, to ask how many paychecks are involved.
“I can’t really put a number to it. I don’t want to say too few checks or too many, so I would say maybe 20 each pay period, but I’m just not sure,” Nagem said. “One is way too many and we want to just make sure that this doesn’t happen in the future.”
Nagem admits they have hit a financial snag recently, but says they have been working aggressively to fix the issues and that as of right now, everyone has been paid.
“There were times when I would take money out of my account and pay checks,” Nagem explained. “Whatever I needed to do, we did.”
This is the latest in a string of issues to hit the business in recent months. Back in May, the company chose to shut down its Zachary location after nearly 20 years of operation. Management said then the decision would allow them to consolidate and reallocate resources. Later that month, realtors purchased the Baton Rouge and Prairieville locations and leased them back to the owner. Both restaurants sold for a combined $8.5 million.
In February, alcohol sales at two East Baton Rouge Parish locations were halted temporarily after the business failed to renew its parish liquor license. Management then told WAFB that was an oversight. The 9News Investigators did a little digging at the time and discovered 2018’s parish property taxes were overdue for all three Sammy’s Grill locations in EBR Parish. Records showed the restaurants owed the parish more than $41,000.
WAFB’s Scottie Hunter asked the restaurant owner if they have satisfied their taxes with the parish.
“Yes, we have. We did,” answered Nagem. “We took care of that. That was property taxes that y’all referred to and yes, we’ve taken care of that.”
Despite that confident answer, late on Monday, Oct. 7, the 9News Investigators were able to confirm through the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office that Sammy’s Grill still owes the parish more than $8,000 in property taxes from 2018 that remain unpaid. According to records provided to WAFB, the business owes $2,645.88 for the Highland Road location, $2,935.71 for the Central location, and $2,898.04 for the Zachary location.
Court records in Ascension Parish show another company is suing Sammy’s Grill, alleging the restaurant ran up a more than $3,000 credit limit for supplies, then failed to pay in a timely manner. When asked about that lawsuit Monday afternoon, Nagem said they took care of the money they owed. The restaurant’s director of finance provided WAFB with a copy of a check showing where they paid $2,996.54 of what they owe.
A representative with the Ascension Parish Clerk of Court’s Office told WAFB’s Scottie Hunter that the restaurant owner was served with the lawsuit, but that management never responded. Nagem says he was unaware a lawsuit was filed until WAFB brought it to his attention.
“We still have about $200, $300, or $400 that we still owe on it that we didn’t realize, but we are going to take care of that today,” said Nagem.
As for how things got so out of hand, Nagem blames a number of things over the past year.
“There’s been a decrease in sales,” he said. “We opened a new restaurant that was delayed in opening and really caused some hardship there, but on the good side, everything is trending much better now.”
He promises they're working through these issues and remains confident they will turn things around soon.
“We can see the light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak, so right now, I feel better about where we are than I did two or three weeks ago,” said Nagem.
Nagem anticipates things will turn around for good before the end of the year and he’s not ruling out possibly reopening the Sammy’s Grill location in Zachary at some point in the future.
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