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State to Press Typhoon! Charges Despite Closure

By News sources
Published On: Feb 05 2012 03:50:20 AM CST
Updated On: Feb 07 2012 04:39:17 AM CST
PORTLAND, Ore. -

Typhoon! -- a troubled Thai restaurant chain hit in recent years by a state labor investigation and the death of its co-founder -- announced Sunday that it closed its doors at five remaining locations, including Bend, over the weekend.

"After 17 years of serving classic and elegant Thai cuisine in the Pacific Northwest, Typhoon! Inc. restaurants dished up the last of their specialties on Saturday, Feb. 4," a news release said.

"All four locations in Oregon -- including Portland, Beaverton, Gresham and Bend -- and the Redmond, Wash., establishment closed their doors at 9:00 p.m.," the announcement added.

"Opening Typhoon! was a lifelong dream come true, but it was a venture that I didn't begin alone," said Bo Kline, president and executive chef of the restaurant group.

"As many in the community are aware, I lost my husband, my business and life partner, Steve, last year," she said. "Without his energy, support and commitment, operating Typhoon! has required much more attention than I am able to give, and has begun to take a toll on my health."

Typhoon! Inc. has grown to employ about 200 people in its Oregon and Washington locations, the company said.

"We realize that our restaurant closures will present a hardship to our many loyal employees," continued Kline. "We are prepared to fulfill all of our contractual agreements with our staff, both U.S. and Thai nationals."

In December, the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries issued formal charges of civil rights violations against Typhoon!, Inc., and said it would seek more than $3.25 million on behalf of Thai workers it claims were subjected to unlawful employment practices by the restaurant chain.

The agency said it would seek at least $250,000 each on behalf of 13 or more Thai employees subjected to unlawful employment practices by the restaurant chain.

Oregon?s Civil Rights Division had announced last May that investigators found substantial evidence that Typhoon used its leverage over workers recruited from Thailand to impose lower pay, longer hours and unfavorable contract terms that were not faced by non-Thai employees.

A year ago, Typhoon shut its flagship location in northwest Portland, having had seven outlets at its peak. The building's landlord had filed a lien seeing unpaid rent, just two months after the IRS filed a lien against the chain for more than $1 million in unpaid unemployment, Medicare and Social Security taxes. The company's newest location, in West Linn, closed last July, less than a year after opening.

In 2003, Typhoon settled a federal lawsuit brought by two former chefs over allegations including denied overtime. The following year, the restaurant agreed to pay $170,000 in back wages to 33 employees to settle federal charges that it failed to properly pay cooks overtime.

Restaurant spokeswoman Angie Galimanis told The Oregonian Sunday the permanent closure of the restaurants is "not necessarily" related to the labor investigation.

"The biggest thing here is her losing her husband," Galimanis said. "It became too stressful for her to do on her own."

On Monday, Bureau of Labor and Industries spokesman Bob Estabrook said the contested-case hearing will go on May 15 as scheduled.

"BOLI is prosecuting the charges against Typhoon and Bo Kline to try to recover damages for the workers who faced unlawful employment practices," he said.

"We're sorry to hear about the closure, because the resolution we've always sought is a healthy, competitive business in compliance with Oregon's employment laws," Estabrook said. "However, closure of the business doesn't make the harmed employees whole or settle this case, and we will continue to pursue the wages and other damages that are owed to these workers."

The rest of the company's Sunday announcement:

Kline, a native of Thailand, opened her first Typhoon! Inc. restaurant in northwest Portland in 1995 and quickly gained acclaim as one of North America's premier chefs of Thai cuisine. The hallmark of the restaurant was recruiting chefs directly from Thailand to keep the menu, and its execution, true to its roots.

"We've enjoyed many years of bringing authentic Thai dishes to the Pacific Northwest, drawing inspiration from both the pushcarts and the palaces of Southeast Asia." Kline explained,

"In addition to offering classic Thai cuisine familiar to our customers, we wanted to expand their understanding of Thailand's culinary landscape with nouvelle preparations faithful to native ingredients and taste, and with rediscovered dishes that were historical favorites," she added.

As a result, announcement said, "many diners enjoyed the classic Thai experience combining touches of hospitality, flavor and elegance."

In addition to garnering culinary accolades throughout its history, Typhoon! Inc. was also recognized as a fast-growing business among local and national media. The company's success also enabled it to give back to the community through donations to local schools and nonprofit organizations, as well as through sponsorship and support of local farmers' markets.

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