Grammy-nominated musician and Los Angeles restaurant owner Moby opened vegan restaurant Little Pine in 2015 in Silver Lake. The plant-based restaurant was touted as a charity initiative for the multimillionaire, who has a long streak as an animal rights activist; he vowed at the time to donate 100 percent of the profits from the restaurant to various animal rights organizations. But employees now say that they weren’t given the same financial considerations.
The restaurant closed on March 15 as a result of the current coronavirus pandemic, and in the weeks since, multiple employees have taken to social media to complain about a lack of communication regarding things like health benefits and outstanding sick and vacation pay.
Eater has spoken with multiple former Little Pine employees, and they all claim that Moby has been largely unresponsive to questions about employment and employee health care benefits since the restaurant shut down a month ago — and that he only reached out directly with a private email to former Little Pine employees yesterday after receiving blowback on social media. In a later update Moby sent a response to Eater as well, shown below.
Employees say that they were told only this week — nearly one month after the restaurant’s last day of service — that the restaurant would be going on “indefinite hiatus” with no plans to offer takeout and delivery, and that health care coverage for full-time employees had been canceled. “I am coverage-less in the middle of a global pandemic,” said one former employee, “because my health care has been canceled by a multimillionaire.”
Moby continues to be prodded about the issue on social media, while Little Pine’s Instagram account has turned off its comments after also being bombarded with angry notes, many from former employees, who claim in public statements that Moby has “zero empathy for our plight” and that “he chooses not to care because it will never affect him.” A recent post on Little Pine’s Instagram, which employees say Moby himself runs, reads in part:
Lately we have been receiving a lot of very hostile comments about the way in which Little Pine was put on hiatus... We have tried to do the right thing, and paid our managers and paid our employees and paid our vendors and paid our insurance, etc. and we are, again like most restaurants, seriously in debt. All we ever wanted was to be a good vegan restaurant and serve our community and generate money for the animal rights nonprofits we love. And now not only have we been forced to shut down, but we are on the verge of bankruptcy, while being viciously attacked by countless strangers.
“I’m not a stranger,” read one comment in response, before it was removed. “I’ve worked at Little Pine since it opened and helped to build the restaurant to what it was. Moby absolutely left us all high and dry.”
The restaurant, which employed fewer than 50 people, is not legally mandated to pay said sick leave under the new federal emergency coronavirus relief law that passed last month. “It’s a huge loophole,” one economist told the LA Times after the law was passed.
The affected employees, who spoke with Eater on the condition that their names not be used, because they fear that speaking out against their former employer could jeopardize them financially, say that given Moby’s philanthropic public image and celebrity status, they believe that paying out accrued sick time would have been the right thing to do. (Little Pine did pay out the accrued vacation hours for its employees says one manager, though several employees say that confirming those payments took weeks.)
The musician’s ultimate response email, seen by Eater, arrived in employee inboxes yesterday following days of sustained backlash. “I’m writing to apologize,” it begins, “Around the time of the little pine shutdown I was dealing with quite a lot of personal issues, and I realize that my emails... didn’t address your concerns, or express my profound gratitude for the remarkable work you all have done...” Moby adds that he feels sorry that the restaurant “hasn’t been able to do more to mitigate the financial hardship” felt by employees. “I fully accept that the shut down could’ve been handled much better,” the email reads, “and for that I take responsibility, and again apologize.”
The email also stated that “given the current financial crisis,” Moby would no longer be “able to subsidize [Little Pine] moving forward.” He did not specifically say that the restaurant would be closing permanently.
The financial crunch surrounding small businesses, even those owned by millionaires, has been dramatic during the time of COVID-19 and statewide Safer at Home mandates that limit travel and narrowly defines essential businesses. Many restaurants have already closed permanently and laid off their own staff, or have attempted to pivot fully to takeout and delivery now that dining rooms have been specifically closed. One of America’s most prestigious restaurant groups, Union Square Hospitality Group, laid off 2,000 employees a month ago, and prominent local restaurants like Majordomo and Mozza have closed for the time being, laying off staff and in some cases canceling health insurance.
Eater reached out to reps for Moby to discuss the closure of Little Pine, and they provided the following statement on Wednesday, April 16:
Like so many restaurants around the world, little pine has been been forced to shut down in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. There’s no easy way to close a business, and I know that a lot of our former staff are very understandably angry and upset. But in closing little pine I absolutely made sure to pay all employee and management salaries and bonuses, vendor costs and taxes and utilities out of pocket. Everything about this global crisis is unprecedented, and I’m sure I could have handled our shut down better. I have so much respect and appreciation for the people who’ve worked at little pine, and I truly apologize for the pain this process has caused.
As for what might make the outcry against Moby slow down on social media, one employee tells Eater: “I would like my insurance back for a few months, in order to get my feet on the ground in the midst of this pandemic. I want my sick pay that I’m owed. And honestly, I would like to never think about him again.”