Staff at 2 popular Culver City eateries say they aren’t getting paid on time

Employees at Culver City restaurants Margot and Juliet say their paychecks are bouncing, leading to delinquency on personal bills and low workplace morale. Graphic by Gabby Quarante/KCRW.

This story was produced with the California Newsroom, a collaboration of public media outlets throughout the state.

With its coastal Mediterranean fare and a rooftop patio overlooking the Expo Line, Margot helped put Culver City on the map as a high-end dining destination when it opened in 2018. It was such a success that in 2023, its owner opened a sister restaurant named Juliet on the same gentrified block. 

But half a dozen former and current employees, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, say the owner has failed to pay them on time for most of this year, forcing some to live hand-to-mouth and some to dip into what little they’ve been able to save in a city that seems to get pricier by the day.  

Both Margot and Juliet are owned by IB Hospitality Inc., according to the California Secretary of State’s office. Well-known restaurateur Rohan Talwar is listed as the company’s CEO. Talwar did not respond to KCRW’s multiple requests for an interview by email, phone, and mail; when KCRW made an in-person visit to Margot, an employee said Talwar wasn’t on site. 

While it’s unclear what’s behind the paycheck issues at IB Hospitality, it’s been a brutal time to own a restaurant in LA. Many owners have shuttered local eateries as inflation and rising business costs eat up already thin margins.

KCRW reviewed employee bank records that show between December 2023 and the second week of June 2024, paychecks from the two restaurants bounced regularly due to insufficient funds in the employer’s account. One worker KCRW spoke with says they are still owed pay. 

Workers also tell KCRW they’ve become delinquent on bills, and morale is tanking as employees leave, hoping to find financial stability elsewhere. 

Talwar founded IB Hospitality in 2012 and opened his first restaurant, in Mumbai, after working for his father’s tile business in India, according to an interview in Voyage LA.

He arrived on the Los Angeles restaurant scene in 2016 when he opened Norah, a posh West Hollywood spot featuring eclectic American cuisine. The Santa Monica Boulevard eatery was a celebrity hot spot. As of last week, its doors were closed, its lights were out, and mail was piled up on a table. A security guard at a neighboring business said it has been that way for a month or two.

The elevator entrance to Margot is tucked in a lush corner at Platform, a Culver City mall. Photo by Megan Jamerson/KCRW.

Norah was such a hit that Talwar continued to grow IB Hospitality. When he opened Margot in 2018 at the shopping mall known as Platform, next to the tracks of what’s now called the E line train, Eater LA declared it “just might be one of the coolest new rooftops in LA.” Four years later, he opened a second location at Platform called Juliet, which received a Michelin Guide mention.

“The goal has always been to provide hospitality above all else, in a manner in which we would treat people in our own homes,” said Talwar in a 2023 Michelin Guide interview.

While workers may have made customers feel at home, they say the business did not treat them with the same consideration.

The employees and former employees told KCRW that as the months go by, the paycheck delays have gotten longer. Most, but not all, workers KCRW spoke with eventually get paid.

A former front-of-house Margot employee says they made it a habit to race to their credit union on payday to be among the first employees to cash their checks. “You could deposit the same day, and it was a total crap shoot,” says the worker about whether the check would clear. 

This spring, they say back-to-back bounced paychecks left them without income for almost four weeks. 

They say their rent payment overdrew their bank account. They became delinquent on bills, and even skipped meals. 

“It was very, very not a good time,” says the worker.  

Meanwhile, a current Margot server says he’s used a significant amount of his savings to fill the gaps each of the seven times his paychecks bounced since February 7. With over a decade in the hospitality industry, he says he can recall only a single instance where a paycheck bounced. 

The server says that on top of his hourly wages, his paycheck usually includes a nearly equal amount in earned tips, which are added to the diner’s bills. That makes the bounced checks all the more frustrating. “That money is not [Margot’s] money,” he points out. So now he is left wondering, “Where's all our tip money [going]?”

At Juliet, employees describe similar financial uncertainty. One worker says Talwar has never offered staff an apology or explanation for bounced paychecks. “Everyone at work is very demoralized,” he says. 

California labor law requires employers to have enough money in the bank, or through credit, to cover paychecks 30 days after they’re issued. 

When restaurant and hospitality workers aren’t paid, or are paid late, they don’t have much recourse. Under state labor code, they’re owed a penalty that’s based on an hourly rate. They can sue, but that can be expensive, time-consuming, and slow. They can file claims with state labor officials, but according to an audit by the California Labor Commissioner released in May, the department that handles these complaints is understaffed and overwhelmed. By the end of fiscal year 2022-23, the Labor Commissioner's Office had 47,000 backlogged claims. The report says the agency has taken about two years to address claims. 

This is not the first time IB Hospitality and its employees have had problems over wages. In 2020, an IB Hospitality employee filed a wage claim against the company and Talwar with the California Department of Industrial Relations. The following year, a group of IB Hospitality employees sought the help of LA County’s Superior Court to recover alleged unpaid wages. The class action lawsuit against IB Hospitality was settled in 2022 and the company paid $237,625.67, according to court documents reviewed by KCRW. The judge overseeing the case described the settlement as fair, reasonable, and adequate after “recognizing the sharply disputed factual and legal issues” raised by IB Hospitality. 

Two years after that settlement deal, current IB Hospitality servers are raising a new set of wage-related concerns. 

“I shouldn’t have to babysit my paycheck,” says a server. “That stuff should just be automatic.”



Megan Jamerson