At the end of the day, every restaurant owner tries to avoid the same thing: closing his doors because he can’t make ends meet.
One restaurant, however, doesn’t have to deal with economic reality: New York’s COLORS, a restaurant project of a labor union front group called the Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC).
Founded as a “new type of restaurant” where “workers are owners” and “stress is kept at a minimum,” COLORS has struggled financially from the start. Debt, unpaid rent, and tax warrants filed by the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance are all part of the day-to-day of COLORS’ existence. It’s a fun bit of irony for a group like ROC that often lectures restaurant owners on how to run their businesses.
Fortunately for the restaurant, ROC has stepped in and generously subsidized COLORS through six-figure interest-free loans and grants.
But where does ROC get its money? From the federal government, it turns out. Over the course of its existence, ROC and its regional affiliates have received nearly $1 million in free taxpayer money via the Department of Labor’s Harwood Grant Program.
Here’s how the scheme works: ROC applies for grants from the government to provide worker training. It then “rents” space and trainers from its own restaurant to provide that training. If you’ve got a failing restaurant, that’s a great way to boost your bottom line.
It’s not even clear the training is working. These grants are awarded to non-profit organizations to “provide training and education for workers” regarding “safety and health hazards” in their workplace. But a 2011 health and safety inspection of COLORS found 38 violations — including “evidence of mice or live mice” in food prep areas.
In other words, your tax dollars help fund a financially failing and sometimes fetid restaurant in the Big Apple.
But that’s not all that your tax dollars prop up with ROC. Beyond COLORS, the Restaurant Opportunities Center is well-known for its unwavering commitment to harming local eateries and national chain restaurants through protests and shakedowns.
Just ask the restaurant where ROC protesters used a 12-foot inflatable cockroach to scare off patrons, or the eatery where they verbally assaulted patrons and took pictures of diners through the window in an attempt to scare them from ever returning.
ROC’s tactics have been so disruptive that restaurant employees have staged counter-protests to show that ROC doesn’t speak for them at all.
All of this info begs an obvious question: Why is the American taxpayer giving this organization even a cent of money? In the midst of sequestration, and with the federal government unable to balance its own books, the taxpayer shouldn’t be helping another group close its own budgetary shortfalls — especially not one with a shady history and dismal record like ROC.
Mike Paranzino is the communications director for ROC Exposed, which was founded and supported by a broad coalition of restaurants from across the country concerned about ROC’s misinformation and attack campaign.