Lancaster cafe owner denies owing ex-staff wages

Wilde and Well Read in New Street, Lancaster.
Wilde and Well Read in New Street, Lancaster.

A Lancaster cafe owner has denied claims he owes hundreds of pounds in unpaid wages to former staff.

Lee Smith, owner of Wilde and Well Read, said that three former staff would “get nothing, are owed nothing, and will receive nothing” following claims from workers and a union.

Wilde and Well Read opened in October 2016 in the former Novel Cafe building in New Street.

David Kelly, who worked at Wilde and Well Read for four days in December, said Mr Smith owed him £225 and that another ex-employee is owed £598, and another is owed £750 for work done at the cafe.

David, a musician who previously worked at the Whale Tail Cafe as a chef and The Robert Gillow as a bar man, said: “I started working at Wilde and Well Read as a chef in December on an agreed wage of £7.50 an hour.

“I did two shifts on the Monday and Tuesday and then covered for someone else on the Friday.

“That was the day five former members of staff came in and asked for wages that had either been underpaid or not paid at all.

“By the end of Saturday, I decided I wasn’t going to put myself in that position, so I wrote to Lee and asked for my wages, saying I could provide a proper invoice if needed.

“He replied that he doesn’t owe me anything, and he told me that I had been on a trial.

“I would never have agreed to working for free. I didn’t have a contract, but another chef had asked for it to be sorted out. I didn’t try to contact him again, and didn’t go back in the shop.”

David said he contacted his union the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), which has offices across the country and has taken on the case.

A spokesman for the IWW said: “Three former staff members at Wilde and Well Read approached the IWW for help in collecting pay they were owed for their work at the café.

“We reached out to Lee Smith, the café’s proprietor, and continue to receive denials from him – so this past weekend, we asked members and supporters to get in touch with Wilde and Well Read to support the workers’ efforts.”

But Mr Smith, a former police officer and security guard, claimed he’d sacked three members of staff.

“The fact I owe any wages is completely wrong,” he said.

“They are very jealous and they’ve got nothing in their lives, and they want to take people down that are successful. They get nothing, they’re owed nothing, and will receive nothing.”

Wilde and Well Read Cafe has also received interest for its unusual and lively responses to reviews on the TripAdvisor website.

The Wilde and Well Read Ltd Facebook page was removed from the social media site at the weekend.