Former employees at Parlor Pizza Bar, a local chain with locations in West Loop, Wicker Park, and River North, say management would segregate its dining rooms by race, seating BIPOC customers in what was called the “rejection section” in the back of the restaurant, reserving the more desirable tables in the front near the window for young white professionals who more closely fulfilled the image Parlor’s owners had of the restaurant’s ideal customer.
The rejection sections in Wicker Park and River North are among a series of allegations included in a lengthy expose published Monday morning by Block Club Chicago. Former workers also say they were forced to work unpaid overtime, and that management hid employees’ COVID-19 status from other workers. Block Club spoke with eight former employees who had done stints at the company’s three restaurants.
Parlor is a family-friendly pizzeria by day that transforms into a bar and club at night. The first location opened in 2014 in West Loop.
Former Parlor employees claim that managers routinely scheduled them for double shifts — two consecutive shifts in one day — and forced them to clock out and then stay at the restaurant and fold napkins and silverware for two or three more hours without pay. In 2015 and again in 2017, employees sued Parlor for failing to pay overtime wages.
Woman servers said managers publicly reprimanded them for showing up to work looking “ugly” — that is, with what they determined was less than perfect hair and makeup — and then wouldn’t schedule them for the following week. Jobs were divided between gender lines: only women were hired for visible jobs like servers, and management made it clear that they were there to be looked at, according to the report.
Meanwhile, as the restaurant industry continues to deal with the pandemic, workers says Parlor’s management failed to inform them when their colleagues tested positive for COVID-19. Instead, people’s names would just disappear from the schedule, and no one would find out why unless the sick employee told them. “One of the managers came out and yelled at all of us, that Parlor was doing everything and that they didn’t appreciate that we were having group messages to inform each other,” a former employee told Block Club.
Owner Mike Bisbee declined to comment to Eater Chicago. In an emailed statement to Block Club, a Parlor representative denied the allegations and claimed that seating was determined by who had reservations and a policy of splitting covers more equally between servers. The company “would immediately terminate any employee who acted in such a despicable way,” the statement read. “This allegation is a complete fabrication and abundantly apparent when you walk into any of our restaurants.”
This isn’t the first time Parlor has been accused of racism. Back in 2016 at the Wicker Park location, customer Antar Jackson said he was denied entry ostensibly because he was wearing sweatpants, a violation of the restaurant’s dress code, but he believed the true reason was because he is Black. At the time, Parlor management banned athletic wear, claiming they were serving pizza in “an elevated environment.” Jackson, a veteran Chicago bartender, said his joggers were actually from Vince, a high-end brand.
Last month, Internal Revenue Service agents raided all three Parlor locations which were shut down for two days as authorities searched the premises. Law enforcement officials haven’t revealed details on what triggered its investigation.