Taco Daddy building

Taco Daddy Cantina & Tequila Bar is shown in downtown Frederick on Sunday.

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.”

Follow Angela Roberts on Twitter: @24_angier

(26) comments

BornToHula2

Wish the news covered this more. Hear about shoplifting/theft a lot but wage theft by employers adds up to almost three times all retail thefts by $ value.

https://www.epi.org/publication/wage-theft-bigger-problem-forms-theft-workers/

Awteam2021

Isn’t that a different topic? Unless you think the employees are eating up the profits? Or customers are running out of restaurants without paying their bill, in the center of Frederick? In those incidents the only one that stiffed is the waiter. They live off tips.

shiftless88

Stiffing your staff in this time of extremely low unemployment is not a pathway towards success

hugvj

Doesn’t seem to bright, does it? Not to mention it’s dishonest. And if his restaurants go completely under, he will no doubt be complaining that “nobody wants to work!”

flyga

Thanks to FNP for opening up comments on this article. The first article on this topic did not allow reader comments to be submitted, and it should have.

mamlukman

Keep in mind the same owner runs Royal Tandoor next door. It opened in March. Good food, but it would turn to ashes in my mouth knowing this guy is a sleazebag. From this story it's clear that this has been happening for over a year. The owner claims "he didn't know." So he's either a liar or incompetent, take your pick. If indeed it was a manager's fault, that manager should be fired--TODAY. And the owner should seek out and personally apologize to each staff member he stiffed and give them a little bonus.

I like the food at Royal Tandoor, but it will be a cold day in Hell before I go back.

bhall74

I've seen this before. The owner of the restaurant pays himself, and any family member employees first, he pays his suppliers second, and his staff last, which is why THEIR checks bounce. Most restaurants can expect to operate in the red for the first couple of years, and if not in the red, with very, very thin margins. A good restaurant owner will always make sure that his staff get paid, their full salary, and on time. If things are a little tight financially, most suppliers will work with a restaurant, but you should never ask your employees to take less than they are owed, or to wait a day or two to get their paycheck. If the employees are not happy, that carries over to their service of customers, which can be a death blow to a restaurant. I would say that Taco Daddy is on life support right now.

C.D.Reid

Agreed, Bill. This kind of publicity sure isn't going to help him any.

gjthuro

spot on!

Dwasserba

I didn’t even think about the times it was clear servers weren’t happy. Some instances do stay in your mind, like, asking about specials, hearing a favorite among them, ordering it and the server remarking, “Oh, that one’s disgusting.” 😕

Dwasserba

PS It wasn’t at Taco Daddy!

gabrielshorn2013

Agreed, bhall. The employees get paid first, suppliers second, and owners last. As for "Taco Daddy"...beep. beep...beep............beep.......................beep...............................................beeeeeeee

FrederickFan

I hope the employees have filed complaints with the Maryland Department of Labor. Pay discrepancies and bouncing checks is a terrible way to treat employees. I have never been to this restaurant and don't plan to ever go there.

vodalone

One immigrant getting over on other immigrants, pretty shameful. You'd think there would be some empathy and comradery there due to similar situations, but it's just people taking advantage of other poorer people.

pdokeegan

What could be more American than screwing over others so you can get ahead?

Dwasserba

😆 “It’s a dog eat dog world.” “If you’re not the lead dog, the view never changes.” “If you can’t reach the highest rung, don’t get on the ladder.” Go, entrepreneurial families of America! Actually the last one was translated from antiquated German as a family motto 👀

newspostreader

Nearly every restaurant in Frederick is hiring. Why would anyone go here to work knowing what the previous staff had to deal with? That doesn't make sense to me. The owner was quoted in the previous article as having said that it was rare for someone's paycheck to bounce. Rare? That should NEVER happen.

Dwasserba

The solidarity of a whole staff walking out is kind of amazing.

Plumbum

Bouncing checks is a criminal offense.

And manager downplays bouncing checks. But former staff and browns liquors tell a different story.

I don’t like the owner. Bad man. Bad.

francesca_easa

Great story from a business that does their staff right. A popular local hangout with good reason.

TrekMan

What???? I don't know what story you're reading, but this ain't it!

HappySeller2014

Looks like time for a federal Department of Labor investigation. Or, at a minimum, Maryland's Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation should be looking into this.

And, tax authorities should probably be looking into this situation as well. If payroll records are as shoddy as it appears and checks are bouncing continuosly, it is surmisable the tax accounting is very questionable as well. Time for authorities to start looking under the hood here?

francesca_easa

This man should be prohibited from owning another business. And his payroll team thrown in jail along with him.

Fredginrickey

How does the owner have a FredCo liquor license? A quick google search showed he is banned in another Maryland County for liquor violations, and also has a sketchy past with other restaurant closures and financial irregularities.

matthewboh

Now that is a good question!

Frankle1

Oh wow! That's pretty messed up!!

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it clean. No vulgar, racist, sexist or sexually-oriented language.
Engage ideas. This forum is for the exchange of ideas, not personal attacks or ad hominem criticisms.
TURN OFF CAPS LOCK.
Be civil. Don't threaten. Don't lie. Don't bait. Don't degrade others.
No trolling. Stay on topic.
No spamming. This is not the place to sell miracle cures.
No deceptive names. Apparently misleading usernames are not allowed.
Say it once. No repetitive posts, please.
Help us. Use the 'Report' link for abusive posts.

Thank you for reading!

Please log in, or sign up for a new account and purchase a subscription to read or post comments.