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.”
According to Kim, more than 30 waiters had originally been interested in participating in a lawsuit. But after finding out about the complaint, Kim said owner Ji Sung Yoo called all the waiters into a meeting and threatened to report them to immigration authorities and blacklist them from further employment in the Korean community if they participated. Most of the waiters withdrew. Kim testified through a translator that the owner said he would use all his influence to ensure that Kim would never work in New York again.