London

More former employees come forward with allegations against London restaurant owner

The owner of a London restaurant, who admits not paying his employees' wages this fall, has a history of financial troubles, CBC News has learned.

Owner of Walker's Restaurant denies some allegations made against him

Walker's Restaurant has temporarily shut down. (Hala Ghonaim/CBC)

The owner of a London restaurant, who admits not paying his employees' wages this fall, has a history of financial troubles, CBC News has learned.

Robert Pouliot's money issues date back more than 15 years ago. And now more former employees have come forward to claim they were never paid.

Jessika Gooding and Damien Stubbs-Vilon both worked for Robert Pouliot as line cooks for about a year and quit after they say the 56-year-old restaurant owner repeatedly failed to pay them on time, shortchanged them on their paycheques or didn't pay them at all.

Meanwhile, Pouliot denied missing full payroll in the past. He admitted to previous financial hiccups that have only ramped up in recent months.

'I barely ever got paid'

Jessika Gooding worked for Pouliot from 2014 to 2015 and said during that time she rarely got paid and when she did it was often weeks late. She claims Pouliot still owes her anywhere from $3,000 to $4,000 in back wages. (Jessika Gooding/Facebook )

"I barely ever got paid," said Gooding, who started working for Pouliot in February 2014. "If I did, it was weeks later and I would notice that I wouldn't get paid for all of the hours that I worked." 

Gooding said that when she did get paid, it would often be for only half the actual time she worked. She said when she had to confront Pouliot about it, he would often try to avoid her, or not answer his phone. 

When she did reach Pouliot, Gooding said he always quick with a story about why the money wasn't on time or in many cases, wasn't there at all. 

"There was always some kind of excuse," she said. "His daughter was sick, or he was sick... ...or saying I was making it up and I wasn't actually working those hours."

When she did receive a cheque from Pouliot, Gooding said she would bring them to the bank where the teller would refuse to cash it. 

"They just told me 'you need to take this back because this is not going to go through," she said. 

Gooding said Pouliot's inability to pay often meant she was shirking her own bills and that led to the electricity company turning off her hydro more than once. 

Gooding said that it eventually got to the point where Pouliot owed her five or six paycheques when she finally walked out. She said she called a few days later asking for all of the money she was owed in back pay. 

"He said he didn't have it, so I basically never went back," she said. 

Gooding said to this day, Pouliot still owes her between $3,000 and $4,000 in back pay. She contacted CBC News after reading about her former employer online. 

"He's been doing this to his employees for years and there's always been some kind of excuse for it," she said. "I don't want people to go in there and thinking that they're going to make a life off the job he's going to provide for them." 

"It's heartbreaking all the employees that are commenting on this saying they never got paid," she said. 

'Deep down I was pretty livid'

Damien Stubb-Vilon worked as a line cook for Robert Pouliot from 2016 to the fall of 2017. He claims Pouliot still owes him $700 in back pay, plus vacation. (Damien Stubbs-Vilon/Facebook)

Damien Stubbs-Vilon got a job as a line cook in one of Pouliot's restaurants a year after Gooding quit and he too reports a similar pattern of behaviour from his former employer. 

"It was my first actual job, so I was pretty excited," said Stubbs-Vilon, who started working for Pouliot in September of 2016. "The first pay I didn't really get paid on time and that became a regular thing." 

"I thought it was just me and then I started talking to my fellow employees and they let me know that he wasn't paying anyone on time," he said. 

The 26-year-old said he threatened to quit a number of times when his pay was late, but each time Stubbs-Vilon said Pouliot would find a way to convince him to stay. 

"He would always guilt trip me saying that oh, he's going bankrupt or his wife is leaving him," he said, noting that sometimes when Pouliot was late with a cheque, he would give Stubbs-Vilon a small bit of cash to get him by. 

"He would slip me a 20 dollar bill," he said. "Deep down I was pretty livid."

Stubbs-Vilon said he estimates Pouliot still owes him $700 in back pay, plus vacation. Stubbs-Vilon said he ended up taking his case to the Ontario Labour Board and is still waiting for it to be resolved. 

Owner speaks out

Pouliot denied some of the accusations made against him.

He admitted he's had previous "seasonal issues" that may have caused a delay in payroll but "not paying [employees] at all, that's not true," he said.

"During seasonal times, there has been periods where payments to vendors may have not been paid on time, payments to utilities may not have been paid on time, just like any other small business," he said.

"I have never intentionally hired somebody with the intent of not paying them," he added.

Pouliot said many of his former employees were understanding when he asked them to wait for a paycheque.

He denied allegations about making up false excuses or pocketing any money from the restaurant.

"I've never actually been able to take a paycheque from that business and the only reason I've held onto it is thinking if I can make it work then perhaps I will have a retirement in the sale of the building but I cannot live off that business," he said.

He admitted to CBC News last week that some of his former employees are owed money.

He initially told CBC News that he started missing payroll in September. He reaffirmed that, noting that's the first time he's missed complete payroll.

Pouliot also had suggested that his former supervisor at the restaurant, John Cameron, may have been stealing money and equipment. But Pouliot was not able to was provide any evidence.

Cameron, whose real name is Donald John Cameron, has about 100 convictions across Canada stemming from crimes that date back to the 1980s.

But Cameron disputes the restaurant owner's claims, saying he's being used as a "scapegoat" to mask Pouliot's troubles.

Cameron told CBC News he only started working for Pouliot in October — after the time Pouliot said his financial troubles began. He said he quit earlier this month after witnessing questionable business practices at the restaurant. 

Cameron said he's out about $4500 in wages.

History of financial trouble

Records show Pouliot declared bankruptcy in 2002 when he owed almost $197,000.

In 2006, he bought the Walker's Restaurant property on Wellington Street for $130,000. He also owns Robbie Walkers Fish and Chips on Wonderland Road.

Notices were given this month to community members. (Submitted)

Pouliot told CBC he previously operated burger joint Heydayz at 685 Richmond Street between 2010 and 2015. He admitted he lost money after the restaurant proved to be unsuccessful. He said he didn't renew its lease.

Court records show Pouliot's numbered Ontario company was taken to small claims court three times by food vendors for not paying his bills on time, where his company racked up tens of thousands of dollars in outstanding debts. 

In each case a judge ordered his company to pay and in one the judge even ordered that Pouliot's personal property be seized in order to pay off the debt. 

Meanwhile, Pouliot said "I'm aware of the debt but I'm not aware of them ever going to court."

CBC News contacted Jeff Duncan, the former owner of the restaurant, who said he helped Pouliot get started in the business along Wellington Street.

"I held a mortgage on the Wellington [Street] property to facilitate his purchase and helped him get started. It took some extra time and flexibility on our part but he did fulfill his obligation," he said in a message.

Pouliot said he's working with the Ministry of Labour to try and resolve claims against him.