Bar Agricole, dogged by wage theft claims, plans to reopen and restructure at new location

Bar Agricole, dogged by wage theft claims, plans to reopen and restructure at new location
Photo: Kevin Y. via Yelp
By Joe Kukura - Published on July 30, 2021.

“No one wants to work” has become the catchphrase of the COVID reopening economy, but is often met with the clever retort “No one wants to work for you.” That may be particularly true for workplaces like South of Market’s upscale Bar Agricole, where employees have filed complaints for being owed tens of thousands of dollars in back pay, and vendors sued over more than $100,000 in unpaid bills. 

Bar Agricole has been closed the entire pandemic period, but the Chronicle reports they are plotting to reopen under a new leadership structure. The “reimagined” Bar Agricole won’t be at the former 355 11th Street spot, but a few blocks away in the ground floor of a new luxury apartment complex called Fifteen Fifty Mission. Still, the bar’s future looks every bit as opaque as its proposed new management structure.

And restructure it must, because Bar Agricole, and other restaurants under its owner Thad Vogler, have developed a reputation for their stream of bounced checks. Per the Chronicle’s report, one server has filed state wage-theft claims for still being owed $30,000, a dishwasher says he’s owed $20,000, and another Vogler restaurant Trou Normand faces four other wage-theft complaints of unknown amounts.

And that’s just jilted employees. According to the Chronicle, “Vogler’s restaurants have been hit with seven lawsuits from vendors, landlords and city agencies since 2018. That year, for example, San Francisco sued the group for not making more than $100,000 in mandatory health insurance payments for nearly 100 employees. Pawnee Leasing Corporation sued Nommo in 2020, alleging the restaurant defaulted on rent payments and owed more than $90,000. And a debt collector sued Bar Agricole on the behalf of seafood vendor Monterey Fish Market for failing to pay more than $16,000.” (Vogler insists they’ve all been paid.)

I’m no hospitality consultant, but I’d wager the management structure is not the real problem here. But that’s what Vogler is changing, to a new model called “sociocracy” wherein workers would have some ownership share.

“Along with hierarchy, there is a lot of domination, a lot of exploitation,” the hospitality consultant Vogler did hire, J.D. Nasaw said. “Sociocracy pushes power from what would normally be the top to out to the periphery, so the person actually making cocktails has as much authority as possible over their job.”  

If it opens, Vogler said the new Bar Agricole will be “a different kind of company,” which is a fancy way of saying it will just be an upscale bar offering small plates, not a full-service restaurant anymore. And even so, the Chronicle notes that the long-awaited reopening will only happen if “lease negotiations and funding go well.”