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Former Brasserie Saison chef says owner did not pay staff

The owner of Brasserie Saison is denying employee claims that staff at the Franco-Belgian restaurant on Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall have gone without pay.

The restaurant temporarily closed over the weekend and is set to reopen Wednesday amid reports that employees have not received pay.

Owner Hunter Smith told The Daily Progress on Tuesday that the closure was part of a “reorganization.”

“I would like to clarify that there are not employees who have not been paid,” he said via email.

But current and former employees, including Brasserie Saison’s former executive chef Chris Humphrey, say otherwise.

“All I can really say is that employees and vendors were not being paid on time, so I had to move on from the company,” Humphrey told The Daily Progress on Tuesday.

After The Daily Progress reported on Monday that Brasserie Saison had temporarily closed amid claims of unpaid staff, Humphrey posted a message on Facebook distancing himself from his former employer.

“I do not want my name associated with any of the problems they are having,” Humphrey said.

In a follow-up comment to the post, Humphrey said, “Hunter couldn’t pay staff or vendors.”

Humphrey, a Charlottesville native, is a well-known figure on the city’s restaurant scene. He’s worked at Bizou and Maya, served as sous chef at the now-closed Metropolitain and was owner and executive chef at Fellini’s, which closed in 2020.

Brasserie Saison announced Humphrey had joined the restaurant as its chef de cuisine on Feb. 10 of last year. He was still working at the restaurant as of Jan. 27, according to another Facebook post. He has, however, since left and joined the kitchen at Whiskey Jar, a popular Southern restaurant also on the Downtown Mall.

Smith outright denied Humphrey’s claims that employees at Brasserie Saison had gone unpaid, as well as other claims that some employees were paying other employees’ wages.

“That is not true,” Smith said.

He added that the recent closure was not the result of unpaid staff.

“The closure was related to an ongoing reorganization at Champion that I’d be happy to share more about when things are finalized,” Smith said.

Smith is the owner of Champion Hospitality Group, which is the parent company of several businesses in downtown Charlottesville, including its flagship bar and restaurant Champion Brewing Company, Brasserie Saison and Latin-inspired eatery Passiflora.

That parent company has come under fire in recent months for failing to pay employees and vendors.

Champion Hospitality confirmed in January that it stood in arrears to an unspecified number of vendors. Marijean Oldham, then a spokeswoman for the company, told The Daily Progress that Champion was working on settling its bills.

“Champion has been working diligently with vendors to settle any issues that resulted from a challenging 2022,” Oldham said in an email to The Daily Progress in January.

Oldham told The Daily Progress on Monday that she had been “out of the loop for a while” regarding Champion Hospitality and directed all inquiries to Smith.

Champion Hospitality has a large footprint in Charlottesville, but it used to be larger.

Last year, Champion Hospitality shut down both the Champion Grill in the Shops at Stonefield north of Charlottesville, the Champion outpost in Lynchburg and Reason Beer in Seminole Place shopping center north of Charlottesville, whose operations merged with Champion’s in late 2021.

There were 16 people laid off as a result of the closures.

The company said in January that there are still 60 people employed under the Champion Hospitality umbrella, and it is looking to hire more.

Smith, whose family also owns Afton Mountain Vineyards in Nelson County, said in a January statement that Champion planned to expand and renovate both Brasserie Saison’s and Passiflora’s operations on the Downtown Mall, saying news would be announced in the “weeks to come.”

That news has not yet emerged.

The last news posted on Champion’s website is the Feb. 10 announcement that Humphrey had been hired.


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