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State of California Orders Baja Fresh to Pay Nearly $400,000 for Wage Theft

Over a two year period, cooks and cashiers at seven locations did not receive full pay for hours worked

Baja Fresh at Critics’ Choice Awards Photo by Andrew Toth/Getty Images for Kahala Brands
Mona Holmes is a reporter for Eater Los Angeles and a regular contributor to KCRW radio. She has covered restaurants, dining, and food culture since 2016. In 2022, the James Beard Foundation nominated her for a Jonathan Gold Local Voice Award.

Last month, the state of California cited and fined a Baja Fresh franchisee in the form of seven separate affiliated corporations for wage theft of 188 workers. After an investigation, the state labor commission discovered that from February 2017 to May 2018, 188 Baja Fresh restaurant workers experienced wage theft and will now receive $375,806 in unpaid wages.

California Labor Commissioner Lilia García-Brower’s office stated that G & D Investments, Inc. dba Baja Fresh, seven other legal entities, and its CEOs set up different corporations for each restaurant, but shared employees between locations. By shuffling employees, cooks and cashiers did not receive full pay for hours worked, including overtime and double time, and double shifts. The finding also states that Baja Fresh employees were not given meal and rest breaks, which are mandated by state and federal law.

The affected employees worked at seven locations in Southern California, including TCL Chinese Theater, West LA, and in the Miracle Mile’s SAG-AFTRA building. Employers will now have to pay employees:

  • $72,333 in minimum wages
  • $93,928 in overtime wages
  • $7,493 in split/double shift premiums
  • $88,807 in meal and rest period premiums
  • $7,035 in waiting time penalties
  • $105,270 in liquidated damages
  • $940 in non-payment of contract wages only for the corporate entities, all of which are payable to workers.

The cited corporations and individuals appealed the decision. The next step involves a hearing officer who will uphold, modify, or dismiss the citations.

Just over a year ago, Genwa Korean BBQ was fined $2.1 million for wage theft for violating labor laws that affected 325 dishwashers, servers, and cooks at its Beverly Hills and Mid-Wilshire locations. The Beverly Hills location has permanently closed. Earlier this year, the state cited and fined a Boyle Heights McDonald’s franchisee $125,000, after employees raised COVID-19 safety concerns.

Eater LA reached out to Kahala Brands, which owns Baja Fresh, but did not hear back.