Former employees and suppliers of Ferndale restaurant, bar, and music venue Otus Supply are accusing the restaurant of writing bad checks and potentially violating wage and labor laws. A report by the Detroit Free Press out today describes a chaotic business environment at a restaurant weighed down by mounting bills, mismanagement, and unusually high staff turnover. Numerous current and former employees allege that their paychecks have bounced and that suppliers and banks will no longer accept the restaurant’s checks.
After more than three years and an estimated $4 million in construction, owners Thom Bloom and Scott Myrick opened the massive 10,000-square-foot Otus Supply along Nine Mile in December 2016. The restaurant featured a tunnel-like look with circular doorways, murals, and wild wallpaper coupled with pizzas and an extensive beer list. Yet, almost immediately, the business faced legal troubles.
A lawsuit filed by equipment Vector Environmental Group in 2017 claimed that Otus Supply failed to pay for $162,240 in restaurant equipment. After entering into a settlement agreement, Otus Supply only made a portion of its payments. The restaurant was then ordered by a judge to pay $200,000 to Vector for failing to meet the terms of the original settlement. Del Bene Produce filed a separate lawsuit in Oakland County Circuit Court in September claiming that Otus Supply wrote the supplier a series of bad checks amounting to $40,000 in product. Otus Supply also owes around $8,500 to the City of Ferndale water and sewerage department.
Bloom and Myrick provided a joint statement to the Detroit Free Press, addressing the allegations:
Otus Supply remains 100 percent committed to the long run and remaining a local destination for thoughtfully prepared food, meticulously crafted cocktails, and amazing live music.
Over the past spring and summer the Nine Mile and Woodward area has experienced ongoing construction disruption that has impacted local businesses, including ours.
While we did experience temporary cash flow problems any issues were handled in an immediate and appropriate fashion. Otus Supply is committed to our employees, guests and vendors. We are excited and optimistic about our growth and forecast for the 4th quarter and beyond.
Over the past year, there have been growing signs of instability at the restaurant. Opening chef Myles McVay, who worked with Bloom at Toast, before moving over to Otus Supply. However, the chef departed from the business in January. He was replaced in April by former Root Restaurant and Bar chef Nick Rodgers. Just a few months later, Jason Osburn stepped in as executive chef.
Speaking with Eater on Tuesday, one former front-of-house employee who wished to remain anonymous described a tumultuous month at a restaurant with a highly dysfunctional work environment plagued by high rates of staff turnover. The employee joined Otus Supply at the beginning of September as a hostess and says that on her the second day of work, she was promoted to front-end manager after her superior abruptly quit. The events coordinator was also let go, leading to confusion within the restaurant about bookings and large parties. “It’s a little disturbing when you come to an establishment and there seems to be no understanding about how anything should be run,” she says.
“Many of us, our paychecks bounced. They didn’t go through,” the former employee alleged, adding that several of the liquor stores in the area no longer accepts checks from Otus Supply. A liquor store manager who also requested to remain anonymous corroborated this account. Employees, the manager says, have cashed checks at the store since Otus Supply opened, but roughly four months ago “we started experiencing the NSF (non-sufficient funds) checks.” In statements to the Detroit Free Press, several staffers including Nick Rodgers said they eventually received cash payments after their paychecks bounced.
After leaving at the end of September, the anonymous employee says her final paycheck bounced. She’s since consulted with her attorney who contacted the owners requesting a cashier’s check for the nearly $2,000 she owed. After more than a week without a response, she went into Otus Supply and an owner presented her with a regular check rather than the cashier’s check. She declined to accept it, because it wasn’t guaranteed by the bank.
“I’ve still yet to receive my money,” she says. “I used to be a frequent customer before I started working there, and this has really changed my opinion of them,” she says.
Correction: A previous version of this story misstated that the restaurant opened in 2017.