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Meeting Street Gourmet Heaven shuts down

Students react to grocery store closing with mixture of surprise, apathy and despair

Employees at Gourmet Heaven on Meeting Street arrived for their shifts Wednesday to learn that the store would be closing indefinitely starting that night, according to a staff member who wished to remain anonymous because she was not authorized to speak by the store’s management.

The Gourmet Heaven location downtown on Weybosset Street will remain open, as well as the two other markets in New Haven, Connecticut.

“We had no idea until today. They just said we’re going to close down tonight,” the employee said. By 8 p.m., the managers had left the store.

Some students expressed ambivalence upon hearing news of the Gourmet Heaven’s closing.

“I think there were always better late-night food options, so it’s not a major loss to the College Hill community,” said Pranav Sharma ’17.

Georgie Halpern ’17 lamented the loss of convenience that Gourmet Heaven provided due to its central location on campus. “There’s no grocery store anywhere near walking distance to buy groceries so I would go even though it was really expensive,” she said. “I’m really upset about this.”

Though reactions were mixed, some said the close was not unexpected in light of recent media coverage surrounding Gourmet Heaven workers’ rights.

Chung Cho, the owner of Gourmet Heaven, was arrested in February on 42 felony and misdemeanor charges of wage theft when the Connecticut Department of Labor discovered he was paying employees hourly wages as low as $4.44 per hour without overtime pay, The Herald reported at the time. The minimum wage in Connecticut is $8.70 per hour.

On Cho’s final hearing Nov. 3, the Superior Court granted his appeal for accelerated rehabilitation — which erased his criminal record and allowed him to forego the trial and prison sentence he faced — on the condition that he recompense the unpaid wages the DOL found him in violation of.

These payments may rack up to $250,000, said Megan Fountain, a Yale alum and organizer at the grassroots social justice organization Unidad Latina en Accion. She added that Cho must submit the payments within two years, during which time he will remain on probation.

The accelerated rehabilitation waives Cho’s right for a trial should he fail to pay the amount in question, in which case the court would find him guilty of all charges and sentence him to prison, Fountain said. He could face a maximum sentence of five years, The Herald previously reported.

“It’s not that surprising,” said Danielle Gomez RISD, citing last year’s closings in New Haven amidst Yale student protests. But Eugenia Lulo ’16 expressed “surprise that they lasted this long” for these same reasons.

Neither Cho nor his lawyer could be reached for comment at press time, but Fountain speculated on Cho’s reasons for closing the store’s Meeting Street location.

“Maybe he’s trying to avoid scrutiny by Brown students,” she said.

“Employers often close down because they think they’re going to avoid paying back wages,” she added.

The food will be transferred to the store’s Weybosset location, the anonymous source said. But while she predicts that the Meeting Street location will reopen, she said, “We’re not sure what to do next.”

-With additional reporting by Steven Michael and Jason Nadboy



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