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Cafe Fanny Controversy: Alice Waters Promised Employee Severance Pay After Restaurant Closure, Never Delivered

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On March 9, Cafe Fanny, the extremely popular Berkeley bistro run by celebrity restaurateur Alice Waters, unexpectedly closed its doors.

As with many sudden closures, shocked employees learned of the plan only one day before the restaurant's last. But before a line of reporters and news cameras, Waters -- famous for her stated commitment to sustainability and community -- vowed to take care of her staff at any cost.

"We will take care of these employees," said Waters to a Berkeleyside reporter, promising to pay her staff two weeks of severance pay. "It's a moral responsibility."

But six weeks later, the employees of Cafe Fanny have not received a dime. Waters's company, Chez Panisse, will not even return their emails.

According to former employees who spoke to The Huffington Post anonymously, staff had been informed about the closure and told that they would not be receiving severance pay by Cafe Fanny co-owner Jim Maser. But the next day, an emotional Waters with her hand on her heart told reporters that she would provide employees with two weeks of pay -- even if she had to provide it out of pocket.

"I assumed that we would be paid because that's what Alice told the press," said a former employee. One employee emailed Chez Panisse searching for an update, but received no reply. "After we didn't receive any severance, and we didn't hear anything back from Chez Panisse, it felt like she may have just said that for appearances."

Legally, Cafe Fanny is not responsible for any severance pay. But after Waters's very public pledge, the lack of promised funds -- and communication -- has left some former employees doubting her sincerity. Rumors of a new restaurant in Cafe Fanny's place have not helped.

When The Huffington Post contacted Chez Panisse, a spokesperson sent the following statement:

The Officers of the corporation which owns Cafe Fanny are in the process of winding down the business and potential severance payments are being reviewed along with many other closing expenses.

Alice Waters feels strongly that the loyal and dedicated staff of Cafe Fanny should be paid a severance. She will be funding that payment personally and separate from the corporation.

But ten days later, former employees had still not received any payment, nor had they heard from Waters or Chez Panisse. Rather, they asked reporters at HuffPost if they had learned of any updates.

Watch ABC's video of Cafe Fanny's last day below, and let us know what you think about the controversy in the comments section:

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