State officials will require owners at Tank Noodle, the well-known Vietnamese restaurant in Uptown, to pay back a $150,000 business interruption grant designed to help businesses in Illinois remain viable through the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a spokesperson from the Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity (DCEO).
The announcement comes more than a month after the public learned that authorities would force owners to pay nearly $700,000 to employees after a federal wage theft investigation. In March, the U.S. Department of Labor announced that it had uncovered multiple federal labor law violations at Tank Noodle, saying that owners failed to pay direct wages to 60 workers. Employees were allowed to collect a portion of pooled tips, but those were also garnished by managers who illegally siphoned off a share for themselves, according to a news release at the time.
It turns out that when Tank Noodle’s owners broke the law, they also violated the terms of the state’s grant program, according to a spokesperson from the Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity (DCEO). Grantees are required to certify their compliance with local and federal laws, and must attest that the business is not involved in any legal proceedings or criminal investigations. Tank Noodle received the $150,000 grant in September — a month before Department of Labor officials notified restaurant owners of their findings.
“After a review of Tank Noodle’s grant, DCEO has found them in violation and has requested the return of the award,” a spokesperson writes in a news release. “DCEO is actively working with the business owner to develop a payment plan to recover these funds. We continue to remind all business owners to remain compliant with the terms of their grant agreement as any violations could put their grant status at risk.”
2021 has gotten off to a rocky start for the restaurant, a longtime community anchor that opened in 2000 as Pho Xe Tang on the corner of Broadway and Argyle. Tank Noodle’s owners began the year by sparking controversy over their presence at the January 6 rally to support former President Donald Trump in Washington D.C. That event later devolved into an attempted insurrection at the U.S. Capitol that resulted in several deaths. Tank Noodle owners have publicly condemned and denied participation in the violence that followed the pro-Trump gathering.
Owners have not immediately returned a request for comment. Staff deactivated Tank Noodle’s original Facebook page in March after news from the Labor Department began to spread. They have since resumed posting under the restaurant’s Vietnamese name.