Greg Couillard’s Spice Room may be closed for good among accusations of bounced cheques, serving without a liquor licence and thousands in unpaid wages
It seems as though every restaurant nightmare is presently playing out in the basement of Hazelton Lanes, where Greg Couillard’s Spice Room and Chutney Bar sits abandoned behind a barrier of bar stools and a sign that reads “Restaurant Closed.” At Manyata, the restaurant’s courtyard café, dusty Christmas decorations have been pushed to the corner, and exposed wires hang from the ceiling like an abandoned renovation project. “Since David Nganga took over, it’s been a shit show,” says one Spice Room–Manyata server. “I’m madder than hell.”
The employee, who has been working at the restaurant for over two years, along with a cook and several other staffers, accuses owner David Nganga of not paying them. The cook and the server, who didn’t want their names published because they’re currently looking for other jobs, say that the Spice Room and Manyata are unlikely to reopen.
“In December, one of my cheques was split into two, and both of them bounced. How can you bounce a $200 cheque?” says the server. “That’s when you know something is wrong at a restaurant. They owe me $1,500, and a bunch of the other staff haven’t been paid yet, either. Our Christmases were ruined.”
Both of the workers show their paycheques—all signed by David Nganga—with a stamp from TD saying that the cheque has not been cleared due to insufficient funds. They claim half a dozen staff members haven’t been paid for December and estimate that the restaurant owes up to thousands of dollars in wages. They plan to charge Nganga with cheque fraud.
The pair also alleges that phone bills went unpaid; that the restaurant’s rent was overdue; and that there was sometimes no food in the kitchen. “I knew something was wrong because I’d come in and there would be no ingredients in the fridge,” says the chef. Their most serious accusation, however, is that the restaurant was serving alcohol without a licence; indeed, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario tells us that the Spice Room hasn’t had a licence since May 25, 2009.
Nganga says he doesn’t know about the bounced cheques. “I have no idea what’s going on, but I’ll look into it,” he tells us, indicating that the closure is due to plans to move the Spice Room into the adjacent retail space, once occupied by Marc Laurent.
“I’m renovating and doing construction,” he says, noting that the restaurant will not participate in Winterlicious, even though the Spice Room was listed as one of the participating restaurants (it has since been taken off the Winterlicious Web site). “I’m going to shut it down and start construction on it next week for a month or so… I’m relaxing right now before the construction starts. I haven’t had time out for three years.”
Nganga’s landlords, however, take a different view: “We terminated them in December. They’re gone,” says Hazelton Lanes’ senior property manager, Miriam Blumenfeld, who would not say why mall management ended the lease. “They don’t exist anymore.” She also says that there are no tenants for the Marc Laurent space, and that both it and the Spice Room are currently “blank slates.”
Nganga did not return phone calls about the lease, but Michael Sannella did—he’s the husband of co-owner Lee Sannella and confirms that the lease is up. He says that the place is under renovation and is expected to open by April, but he is unsure if it will be under a new concept.
As for the restaurant’s namesake—Greg Couillard, who now works in Ajijic, Mexico, as the head chef of Chili Bang Bar—he says he isn’t surprised that the Spice Room is apparently closing for good. “I suspected as much,” he tells us over the phone from Mexico. “I just think it’s a dead-end space, quite honestly, and I haven’t spoken to my business partner for 10 days. It’s all part of the restaurant business, but still, it’s such a shame.”