By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Bahamian staff and landlord of the former Hard Rock Cafe (Nassau) franchise have yet to receive a single cent two years after it was placed into liquidation, amid allegations that its owners are engaged “on a fool’s errand of litigation”.
Ex-MP Marvin Pinder, the father of current Elizabeth MP, Ryan Pinder, and the employees of former franchisee, HRCC (Bahamas), are claiming that the latter’s principals still owe them “hundreds of thousands of dollars”.
And they are questioning what has happened to HRCC (Bahamas) liquidation, which in 2014 was placed into the care of Paul ‘Andy Gomez, the then-Grant Thornton (Bahamas) accountant and partner, who is now the Bahamas’ ambassador to China.
The concerns are disclosed in multiple legal filings in the US federal court for middle Florida, where the legal battle between Keith and Kevin Doyle, HRCC (Bahamas) principals, and Hard Rock Cafe International and several of its current and former executives, is again heating up.
Hard Rock Cafe International, as franchisor, and the three executives are urging the US federal court to render a summary judgment dismissing the Doyles’ claim that they were deliberately squeezed out of their $4 million Nassau investment.
They are justifying this demand on the grounds that there is ‘no cause of action’ to support the Doyles’ claim, and that the franchise termination was justified by their failure to make due royalty payments.
Marvin Pinder and his company, Thirty 3 Ltd, ultimately took over the Hard Rock Cafe (Nassau) franchise in April 2014, after it had been pulled from the Doyles.
The former MP, in a May 20, 2016, affidavit to support the franchisor’s summary judgment bid, alleged that the Doyles and HCC (Bahamas) still owe him significant sums in unpaid rent for the Charlotte Street premises, and that not a single cent has been paid out to creditors from the latter’s liquidation.
“My company that was the landlord for the Nassau Hard Rock Cafe is owed many thousands of dollars in unpaid rent by HRCC (Bahamas),” Marvin Pinder alleged.
“Around the time the HRCC (Bahamas) entity was ceased operating in March 2014, I was informed by Mr Doyle that the entity was being placed into liquidation proceedings.
“I am aware of no distribution having been made to creditors from the liquidation process.”
Kendrick Christie, Mr Gomez’s fellow partner and accountant at Grant Thornton (Bahamas), declined to comment yesterday when contacted about the status of the HRCC (Bahamas) liquidation and status of possible payments to creditors.
However, Shawn Young, the vice-president of Entertainment Outfitters, a US-based apparel producer that supplied the former Hard Rock Cafe (Nassau) franchise, confirmed that it was still owned “thousands of dollars” by the Doyles’ entity, which had been outstanding since 2013.
And, in a situation that has parallels with the ongoing struggle of former City Markets staff and pension beneficiaries to recover what is due to them, former HRCC (Bahamas) staff have also yet to receive due severance and other benefits more than two years after the company’s collapse.
A former HRCC (Bahamas) employee, speaking to Tribune Business yesterday on condition of anonymity, confirmed that a lawsuit filed by 21 former staffers against the company in August 2014 was still active.
They are collectively seeking some $174,000 in severance, notice and vacation pay, according to documents obtained by Tribune Business, with the greatest two individual sums being $42,720 and $32,317 respectively.
Disillusioned by their lack of progress in securing due compensation, the former HRCC (Bahamas) employee said: “Nothing’s happened.
“We went to the Labour Board, and have gone to court. Our voices have been silenced.”
While many were immediately re-hired by Mr Pinder and the operators of the new Hard Rock Cafe (Nassau) franchise, the employee said the financial terms were far less favourable than under the Doyles.
“We were brought back at lower pay, and lost all our benefits,” they added.
The 21 employees are claiming that they were made redundant in March 2014 “in breach of their contract of employment, and without adequate and/or proper compensation” from HRCC (Bahamas).
“Despite numerous negotiations, meetings and promises by [HRCC (Bahamas)] to compensate the plaintiffs, on each and every occasion the first defendant has failed or refused to pay the plaintiffs’ outstanding claims, or to make any payment at all,” the employees’ statement of claim reads.
“In breach of the plaintiffs’ legitimate expectation to continue working, without notice, in mid-March 2014 or thereabouts the plaintiffs were informed by management that the business was closing and that their tenure as employees at Hard Rock Cafe and related benefits would cease on March 31, 2014.
Three employees had worked for the Hard Rock Cafe (Nassau) franchise for more than a decade, and Marvin Pinder’s Thirty 3 Ltd and another entity he owns, Habacoe Ltd, are also named as defendants in the action.
The staff are alleging that Thirty 3 Ltd is “liable for the obligations” left by the Doyles and HRCC (Bahamas), given that it is the new owner of the Nassau franchise.
And Habacoe Ltd was alleged to be “vicariously liable through assignment’, on the grounds that it had operated and owned the Nassau Hard Rock Cafe business between 2000 and April 2004, via a sub-franchise agreement between Marvin Pinder and the Doyles.