Café Hampstead: Questions over banned company director Robert Newmark's links to fashionable restaurant
PUBLISHED: 07:11 06 September 2018 | UPDATED: 12:16 06 September 2018
Former staff at Rosslyn Hill restaurant Cafe Hampstead allege workers are owed thousands of pounds - and there are questions over the cafe's links to disqualified director Robert Newmark. Harry Taylor investigates
Staff at Café Hampstead say they are owed thousands of pounds in unpaid wages amid stock shortages and cashflow problems at the fashionable restaurant.
And the Ham&High can reveal there are grounds to suspect disqualified company director Robert Newmark, who was banned from being involved in “the management of a company in any way” by a court in 2016, may be breaching that order by helping run the business.
Cafe Hampstead’s owner Conor Thomson-Moore yesterday (Wed) said Mr Newmark did not run the business and was not involved in its management, but that: “Robert has provided advice when I’ve requested it given his years of experience in the restaurant industry.”
Mr Newmark, through his lawyers, denied “being involved in the running of the business”, and said the consultancy advice he gives Cafe Hampstead Ltd was not “in a management role and is not contrary to the restrictions placed upon him as a disqualified director”. He said he had not breached the order in any other way.
Yet text message conversations between Mr Newmark and workers appear to show he is still dealing with staff, stock ordering and wage disputes, and has even ploughed his own money in to keep Cafe Hampstead afloat.
More than a dozen staff are said to be owed wages by Café Hampstead in Rosslyn Hill, according to two former employees.
One, Yoanna Petrova, worked at the restaurant for three months.
She handed in her notice after witnessing a fight between two colleagues in the middle of the restaurant on the evening of August 14.
It left her suffering panic attacks, she said, adding she couldn’t work there any longer because she “didn’t feel safe”.
“I just wanted to go home,” said the 23-year-old. “I’d been there since 8am and I felt really scared.
“They called everyone back in, but the same night I messaged colleagues and said I wasn’t coming back until Thursday [two days later].”
The restaurant closed early that night after the incident. In later messages to employees – seen by the Ham&High – Mr Newmark said a delay in their wages being paid was because of the money lost from that night’s takings.
According to Yoanna and her boyfriend Andreas Triebe, who has also since left Café Hampstead, at least 13 staff are owed wages in some form. From what they have been told, they believe the amount is about £8,000, with Yoanna herself owed £1,257.
Café Hampstead Ltd is listed on Companies House as only having one director and shareholder: 23-year-old Mr Thomson-Moore.
But messages apparently sent by Mr Newmark to staff, seen by this newspaper, suggest he has been helping run the business himself in recent months. These include screenshots of conversations where he has told staff to order stock; explains why they haven’t been paid; and says he is the point of contact for them to get their wages back.
In one screenshot, seen by this newspaper, Mr Newmark even reassures a staff member they will be paid because “this business has had massive setbacks that I can fortunately stabilises [sic] due to my other interests”.
But Mr Newmark’s lawyers told the Ham&High the cash had been provided from his own personal funds because he was worried the failure of Cafe Hampstead could impact its landlord, of which he is a shareholder.
In another message, however, he tells a former employee: “I own the business.” And he also tells senior workers: “We are running a business.”
In January, this newspaper revealed former staff at Shoreditch restaurant Beach Blanket Babylon had taken Mr Newmark to a tribunal over unpaid wages.
At one point this year, staff alleged “BBB” was showing up on customers’ receipts at Café Hampstead, something Mr Newmark said in screenshots seen by this newspaper he was looking to change.
Both Mr Newmark and his son Brett were struck off as directors of Rosslyn Hill Ltd, which managed Beach Blanket Babylon, in 2016. According to the order, neither can be “the director of a company whether directly or indirectly, or be involved in the management of a company in any way for the duration of their disqualification unless they have permission from court”.
The order lasts for five years for Robert, and three-and-a-half years for his son.
The Insolvency Service says “management of a company” may include but not be limited to “ordering, paying or negotiating with suppliers or customers, renting or buying business premises, hiring or firing employees, dealing with the company bank account”, and “taking executive decisions as to the company’s affairs or making it seem that you are in a position to take such decisions”.
Mr Newmark’s conversations with staff about unpaid wages and shifts, as well as his reference to himself as running or co-running the business and even taking decisions about whether or not to close the restaurant, would appear to contravene this.
We have seen messages from staff to Mr Newmark and Mr Thomson-Moore saying they don’t have enough stock to open up for the day. On another occasion, Mr Newmark appears to endorse an instruction from Mr Thomson-Moore for workers to go out and purchase tomatoes with their own money.
“What rubbish is this?” Mr Newmark writes. “Is this the integrity of grown-ups that can’t buy bloody tomatoes? This feels like running a kindergarten. Shameful stuff.”
According to Yoanna and Andreas, the restaurant had frequent problems with money owed to various suppliers of food, drink and cleaning services.
Things got so bad for Cafe Hampstead that a former chef and two business consultants advised bosses to shut it for two days owing to short staffing and low stock.
In response, a message from Mr Newmark to a Whatsapp staff group said: “[The chef] is another nut-job he says let’s close and all go to his restaurant to see how it’s done. Are these people just stupid? Is there a middle-eastern germ that’s makes them all unrealistic.” [sic] Both the chef and one consultant are of Middle Eastern origin.
Despite frequent requests to both Mr Newmark and Mr Thomson-Moore, neither Yoanna nor Andreas’s full wages have been paid, and nor have they been given their P45 forms. Yoanna and Andreas have both found other jobs, but have persisted to ask Mr Newmark for the money they are owed.
Staff are now considering a class action case against Café Hampstead Ltd to get their wages back.
“It’s been really stressful,” said Yoanna. “I had been saving up money to move house, so I have money I can use, but it means I now have to stay where I am.”
Cafe Hampstead did not respond to questions about wages or supply problems.
The Ham&High has passed its evidence to the Insolvency Service.