Original Feature for Gothamist: Workers at Kum Gang San Allegedly Forced to “Volunteer” as Farm Laborers & Beg for Forgiveness

Dining inside Manhattan's Kum Gang San restaurant. Photo by Nabil Rahman.

Dining inside Manhattan’s Kum Gang San restaurant. Photo by Nabil Rahman.

I wrote a feature article for Gothamist about a wage theft lawsuit and a history of labor violations at Kum Gang San restaurant in Manhattan and Flushing.

UPDATE: Someone translated the article into Korean (한국어로 읽기)

The article was also named one of Gothamist’s Best of 2014.
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Servers and bussers at a popular Korean restaurant say they were forced to work 18-hour shifts without overtime, attend church before work on Sundays, and “volunteer” their time picking vegetables at a farm outside the city. According to a federal lawsuit they filed against the management of the restaurant, any refusal to heed the owner’s extraordinary demands resulted in humiliation, termination, and threats of blacklisting and deportation.

Kum Gang San restaurant is a mainstay in Manhattan’s Koreatown, open for business 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Its Queens location is a cornerstone of community celebrations in downtown Flushing. Throughout the weekend, weddings and baby showers crowd the banquet hall and private rooms, while diners in the main rooms can enjoy platters of meat cooked on tableside grills, unlimited plates of banchan, or Korean side dishes, and bubbling stone bowls of stew.

But for the restaurant’s waiters and kitchen workers, the hours were often brutal, sometimes extending into 18-hour shifts with 7-day work weeks, for which they received no overtime pay and sometimes not even a break, according to the lawsuit, which was filed last year by eleven former employees.

Tae Ho Kim, a tall, lanky 50-year old who waited tables at the restaurant for 15 years and one of the plaintiffs in the case, did not want to sue at first. Working at Kum Gang San was his first job in New York City, and he had risen to the position of head captain. But he said conditions at the restaurant had become unbearable. “We wanted to have a dialogue with the owner to fix some issues,” Kim said. “But instead of engaging in a conversation, his behavior got worse and worse.”

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This entry was posted on June 19, 2014 by and tagged , , , , .

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