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Top Notch flame out

Tim E. Curran
The Mid-county Memo

Amid a publicized labor dispute and failure to pay rent, Yaw's Top Notch Restaurant closed its doors after only eight months and a 30-year absence from Portland's restaurant scene.
Mid-county Memo photo/Tim E. Curran
After an eight-month run, Yaw's Top Notch Restaurant, closed its doors last month, perhaps forever.

When the first restaurant named Yaw's opened at 11340 N.E. Halsey St. in Gateway, in September 2012 after nearly a 30 year absence from Portland's restaurant scene, it carried great expectations, high hopes and a built-in fan base.

With a labor dispute publicized in last month's issue (“Top Notch labor dispute” May 2013) and other problems, owner Stephen P. Yaw, Sr. was evicted for non-payment of rent, according to property owner Dan Banes.

“We evicted him,” said Barnes. “That's what happens when you don't pay the rent.”

In an interview with the Oregonian after his restaurant closed, Yaw said, “It's gotten so blown out of proportion, it's ridiculous.” He added, “We haven't been as pure as bleached towels, but it will all come out in the wash.”

When the Memo asked Yaw for comment on the closing, he said in an email, “Yes there will very soon be an answer.”

Barnes, who was also an investor in the business, declined to reveal how much money he gave Yaw, but added, “We're in negotiation right now with other parties and hope to have a new lease signed by the end of the week.”

However, this didn't happen.

Former kitchen manager Frank Clow - who also sold Yaw thousands of dollars of equipment - and investors that owned Yaw's intellectual property rights, were negotiating with Barnes to re-open the restaurant without Yaw, but with the same name.

That is, until they found out they couldn't re-open if the Bureau of Labor and Industries considered the new venture too closely tied to the previous one, or a “successor in interest” to the original restaurant.

In an email, Charlie Burr, BOLI Communications Director said another restaurant could open at the same site without any of the liability of the wage claims as long as it met BOLI's tests. Like name, purchase of restaurant equipment, and other factors to determine whether the new entity was inextricably connected to the previous one and therefore, on the hook for the original restaurant's obligations.

“I think it's sad in a way that Yaw's has to go by the wayside for a while,” Clow said. “But on the other side, I don't want to see him continue like that, owing and owing and screwing people.”

Clow said that after Barnes padlocked the restaurant, he allowed him to recover all his kitchen equipment. “I got just about everything out of there,” Clow said. “In some respects I got a few grand out him for payments on the equipment, but I got it all back. It ain't what I wanted, but you just keep going on.”

Burr said there are still 11 open claims against Yaw's Top Notch Restaurant and that none have been closed or paid. Burr said there are things BOLI can do to help former employees recover wages - up to $4,000 that is.

Because Yaw's closed, the claimants had to re-file their claims with the Wage Security Fund.

The WSF, established in 1985 by the Oregon Legislature has paid out more than $14 million in benefits to displaced workers since July 1986.

The WSF allows workers to recover wages up to 60 days preceding the closure, or the amount of unpaid wages earned within 60 days of the last date of employment.

Money for the fund comes from a diversion of 3 cents per $100 in the state's employment taxes paid by employers during one quarter every odd numbered year. In the 2007-09 biennium, the diversion generated more than $3.6 million for the fund.
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