A new sign hung in the darkened window of downtown Frederick’s Taco Daddy Cantina and Tequila Bar Tuesday afternoon.
“We apologize for the inconvenience,” black ink on bright yellow paper read. “We will reopen in a few days!”
Taco Daddy owner Neel Kamal said he is interviewing new bartenders and servers for the restaurant after employees walked out of the North Market Street restaurant Saturday evening. The workers, citing discrepancies in their paychecks, said they regularly got paid late and had their paychecks bounce when they tried depositing them.
But even as former bartenders and servers continued airing frustrations Tuesday about how Taco Daddy was managed, Kamal said he is confident the restaurant’s support and kitchen staff will come back to work. He is eager to rectify any issues his front-of-house employees share with him, he said.
He is not “running away,” he told The Frederick News-Post in an interview Tuesday afternoon.
“We are here to do business,” he said. “We are not here to do any criminal activity or anything like that.”
In a statement posted to Taco Daddy’s social media Monday morning, Kamal said the restaurant is investigating its accounting and will pay employees all wages they are due. He said the restaurant’s doors are open to anyone involved in the walkout who would like to come back to work.
The Frederick News-Post spoke with four Taco Daddy front-of-house employees on Tuesday who said they and their coworkers do not want to return.
“Nobody plans on going back,” former bar manager Joseph Mackey said. “We’re all looking for new jobs.”
Three workers said they are still waiting for Taco Daddy to address problems with their most recent paychecks.
Kamal urged them to contact him about the discrepancies. He and the restaurant’s manager also disputed the employees’ characterization of the paycheck problems as regular occurrences.
Laura Wheeler, who now works at Lazy Fish on East Patrick Street, said she left her job at Taco Daddy after becoming fed up with checks from the restaurant bouncing when she tried depositing them.
She said she worked at Taco Daddy briefly in 2018, and between July and December 2021.
One evening, she deposited four paychecks, then wrote an $800 check to pay rent. None of them went through, she said.
Afterward, her bank told her that if one more check she deposited bounced, she’d be in danger of losing her bank account, she said. And anytime she uses mobile deposit, her bank puts a 10-day hold on the payment.
“I have bills to pay,” Wheeler said. “I live by myself in an apartment and you have to pay your bills. They don’t really care if your work is bouncing checks or not.”
Dawna Keyser, owner of Brown’s Liquor and Grocery Store on East Patrick Street, said the store has had problems with checks from Taco Daddy. Last year, she said, she had to call the restaurant and ask the owner to bring money to Brown’s, so the store could successfully cash paychecks from Taco Daddy employees.
Kamal acknowledged there have been times that checks from Taco Daddy have bounced when employees tried to deposit them.
The restaurant has big bills to pay, he said. Last year was especially tough. And increasing prices caused by supply chain issues this year has made things even more difficult.
“These are the issues,” he said. “It’s not that I’m taking their money or I’m lying to them.”
He said Taco Daddy will find a way to ensure no more paychecks bounce when deposited.
Allie Blankenship was picking up a shift at the Royal Tandoor on Saturday. She only heard about the walkout after it happened.
She feels nervous about finding a new job. After being at Taco Daddy for nearly four years, she had a schedule that allowed her to take care of her 3-year-old daughter.
“I’m petrified trying to think of where I’m gonna go and who’s gonna understand me and my family dynamic,” she said. “That part is the hardest part because it’s like, ‘Hi, will you hire me for super part-time?’”
But because of her years at Taco Daddy, she has a “village” supporting her, she said. She has a long list of people who have reached out to her, asking how they can help.
“I do have options,” she said. “It’s just that scary first step of starting over somewhere new.”