Editor’s note: This article was updated at 1 p.m.
Diners who had hoped to enjoy a leisurely brunch with views of the bay at Hs Lordships on Sunday instead witnessed workers walking out in protest. The incident happened one week before the nearly 50-year-old restaurant near the Berkeley Pier is set to close.
According to diners who were at Hs Lordships (199 Seawall Dr., Berkeley) during the incident, the entire wait staff and many other restaurant workers walked out in the middle of brunch service at the same time.
“They left only a few chefs and one host,” said one customer who was there at the time but who asked to remain anonymous.
An employee eventually appeared to make an announcement to customers, explaining that the restaurant’s union members were protesting the severance offered by Hs Lordship owners, Specialty Restaurants Corporation (SRC). The severance was said to be $21 for every year of employment.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported that workers had protested by taking their break simultaneously, and when they attempted to return to work, they were turned away and told to go home.
The remaining staff members, a total of 11 people including the executive chef, sous chef, a busser, a runner, a bartender and the host, who did not walk out in protest continued service for the packed house. The restaurant employs a total of 24 full-time employees, including management and hourly team members
“The host was attempting to figure out what she could do,” continued the anonymous tipster, who was at Hs Lordships at around noon Sunday. “The manager came by, and they both decided to close the restaurant and prevent further guests from coming in, reservation or not. Anyone who was waiting and had checked in with her would be able to be seated. The host had to clear off and reset a few tables in order for the remainder of the people to be sat. The manager offered a 50% discount to those who remained. The only remaining people were the management staff, the bartender and a server who chose to take care of the guests rather than walk out, and a few chefs. Despite all that had happened, I had a wonderful time, the food was fantastic, the remaining server was very warm and happy. There were some guests who decided to help clean up, and the remaining chefs kept the buffet as stocked as they could.”
“It was like a big camp,” said Sherry Martins, who has worked as a host at Hs Lordships for the last 18 years, and commutes to the restaurant from her home in Concord. She said guests were sympathetic for the staff who remained inside. “Everybody was really a team — between employees and customers.”
Martins said she did not know about the planned walk-out until the restaurant’s union representative told her as it was about to happen on Sunday. She decided not to participate. “I care more about my guests right now than the [severance] package that [the owners] don’t have to give us anyway,” Martins said. Although she did not agree with the walk-out, Martins did say the severance offered was “a very small amount” and credits the union with keeping the restaurant open, when it “should have closed three years ago.”
Nosh was at the restaurant on Monday around noon, where we spoke with Martins, as well as owner John Tallichet, CEO of Specialty Restaurants. Tallichet, who lives in Los Angeles and was not at the restaurant on Sunday, stressed that Hs Lordships will continue to operate during its normal business hours until July 1.
“I’m here today because I want to show support and that I’m sorry for what happened,” said Tallichet, who said he could not speak about the terms of the severance package that was offered to employees. He said that all employees were welcome to back to work the final week. He also denied reports that workers were barred from coming back in after the walk-out. “Some came back, some went home,” he said.
When Nosh left the restaurant, there was one party of two dining in the massive restaurant; Tallichet said this is about a normal day for the restaurant.
Tallichet’s family are the original owners of Hs Lordships; his father, David Tallichet founded SRC in 1958 and built Hs Lordships in 1969. SRC currently owns 20 restaurants. Tellichet said that the group made an internal decision to close the Berkeley restaurant because the amount of money it would take to renovate the almost 50-year-old building was more than they could afford. “We decided after 50 years that it was time to have someone else come in that could take it over,” Tallichet said, mentioning he was excited to see what happens to the space and the Berkeley waterfront in the future. The announcement about the closure and the severance offer was made to employees on May 15. A goodbye dinner for the restaurant’s staff was planned for Thursday, June 28.
“To me, nothing has changed, we have great employees,” said Tallichet, who told Nosh that as far as he knows, the staff dinner is still happening. He also said Hs Lordship’s final Sunday brunch will still take place on closing day, July 1. “I still feel positive that this can happen,” he said.