Nearly two months after Cafe Tropical closed its doors in Silver Lake, former employees who worked there say they are still missing hundreds or thousands of dollars in final paychecks that were never received.
The nearly 50-year-old Sunset Boulevard restaurant suddenly closed in late November as the company that owned the Cuban cafe was hit by debt and a bitter family dispute. But the surprise decision to close resulted in baristas and chefs losing their jobs and continuing to miss paychecks they were owed.
“It’s sad how they just threw us away,” said Miguel Alarcon, 44, a barista who worked at Café Tropical for a dozen years until it closed in December. 1. “I told them that I have children and a family. …You have to pay me.”
Alarcon and other employees said the problems at Café Tropical began months before the closure. Checks to employees started arriving and vendors complained that they weren’t paid.
The problems arose as part of a lawsuit that owner Daniel Navarro’s mother filed against him in 2022. Gladys Navarro alleged in the lawsuit that her son illegally used money from the family business to finance Café Tropical. According to court documents, Daniel Navarro has failed to pay his mother and sister more than $350,000 he owes in connection with the lawsuit.
The dispute left the workers in the lurch.
Alarcon was owed about $900 a week in wages, he said. Other employees are entitled to even more. Another woman at the company was missing three paychecks, Alarcon said.
Jasmine Perez, who started at Café Tropical in September, said she is owed about $1,000. When she started at Café Tropical, there were already many things.
“The first thing anyone asked me was to look through your check?” she said. “It just became an absolute nightmare to ever get paid on time. There were times when I missed a paycheck for two consecutive pay periods. “It was very uncomfortable asking for the money you had already earned.”
A group is raising money on GoFundMe to pay employees who are struggling to get answers from the owner. Ciara Keane, a Silver Lake resident who organized a GoFundMe, said Navarro changed his number after the closure.
“Employees are still unemployed and struggling to find employment. “They are in need now more than ever,” Keane wrote on GoFundMe.
The group has raised nearly $10,000 but says it still needs more than $50,000 in additional contributions to pay the 33 employees who lost their jobs and whose final paychecks were canceled.
The goal is to pay employees the $1,000 they are entitled to and an additional $1,000 for the period they are unemployed after the closure.
“I really wanted to [the staff] “To feel how much the community loved and supported them, even if they didn’t get the same support from Daniel,” Keane said.
Keane moved to Los Angeles from Miami four years ago, and although she is not Cuban, Café Tropical reminded her of the Cuban culture of the city where she grew up.
She also acknowledged the important role that Café Tropical played for both the sober community and the older generation of Silver Lake residents, who viewed the restaurant as one of the last vestiges of the trendy neighborhood’s pre-gentrification era.
Keane and her friends printed out posters pointing to GoFundMe in Silver Lake, Los Feliz and Echo Park, but they still didn’t manage to raise enough money to get all the employees healthy.