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Former employees accuse Lone Spur Cafe CEO of poor business practices

Workers from both Durango and Prescott, Arizona, locations say checks bounced when trying to deposit them
Lone Spur Cafe on Main Avenue has been accused by multiple employees for issuing paychecks that won’t cash. (Tyler Brown/Durango Herald)

There is a sign in Lone Spur Cafe’s window that reads “Help Wanted.” And it may be for good reason, according to former employees.

Multiple former workers are accusing Lone Spur Chief Executive Officer Cory Farley of poor business practices, including bad payroll management and unsafe restaurant conditions.

Lone Spur, which was founded in Prescott, Arizona, opened its Durango location in 2016. There were also locations in Pagosa Springs and Silverton, both of which recently closed under suspicious circumstances, according to former employees.

Payroll issues in Durango

Former employee Charles Hawkins said that his paychecks bounced twice, and he would not be paid until weeks after his scheduled pay period. He filled out multiple direct deposit forms issued by the restaurant so that he could get paid, only to discover that the bank used to supply payroll kept changing.

Finally, after multiple complaints from Hawkins and enlisting help from Albrechta Law, Lone Spur management contacted Hawkins saying that they would pay him through Venmo, Hawkins said.

The Durango Herald attempted to contact Albrechta Law, but were unsuccessful before deadline.

Hawkins said that he did not want to be paid through Venmo because he wasn’t sure if he would receive the correct amount of money that he was owed. After saying he wanted to be paid in cash, a Lone Spur manager met with Hawkins at Orio’s Roadhouse and paid him $500 in cash.

“That’s why they’re always looking for people because they don’t pay them,” Hawkins said “And then some of the people didn’t even get paid. I spoke up loudly, sent messages and contacted (Farley’s) law firm.”

He also said that Lone Spur owed him a lot more than the $500 he was paid, but wanted to take what he could because he needed the money.

Former Lone Spur General Manager Josh Hester corroborated Hawkins’ accusation, saying that payday was his least favorite part of the week because he knew checks were not going to be deposited into employees’ accounts.

“We got paid every two weeks; I would say at least once every other pay period, there were at least one issue with someone’s paycheck, if not everybody’s paycheck,” he said.

Hester said it got to the point where local grocery stores like Albertsons, City Market and Walmart would not cash checks if they were from Lone Spur. Hester said he would contact Farley multiple times until employees were paid.

“I always made it a top priority, as it should be, to make sure that my people were paid within 24 hours of finding out that they had a bounced pay payroll check,” Hester said.

Hester resigned from his position as general manager in January. After doing so, he noticed that one of his checks had bounced. He said it took two months for Farley to pay him the money he was owed. Hester added that about nine employees also quit once he left because they feared no one else would stand up for them.

Former kitchen manager Rico Pinedo also experienced similar problems. Pinedo worked at Lone Spur from 2019 to July 2023. He said he had so many checks bounce from Lone Spur that he ended up falling into debt with his banks and owed them over $3,000, money he would’ve had if his paychecks weren’t being rejected.

“This would frequently (reach) the point that I’ve been through two staff walkouts because of it,” Pinedo said.

He said there were a number of justifications given to employees about why their paychecks kept bouncing. Said reasons included money being used to supplement other establishments that Farley owned.

Farley said that these payroll issues were a result of the company shifting from Chase Bank.

“A lot of those issues came up because there’s no Chase Bank locations in the area,” he said.

Farley declined to comment on when the company moved from Chase to the new bank, citing that he did not want to provide inappropriate information.

“I think we’ve resolved everything so that we can provide a great environment for all of our employees,” he said.

Hester said that he and five other employees went to the Southwest Colorado Workforce Center, which helped them get in contact with a someone with the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.

However, Hester never received a call back from the state.

Unsafe conditions, troubles with vendors

Hester also said the building’s utility bills were not being paid on occasion. He said he recalled that happening about three times, adding he would have to close early because the restaurant did not have any hot water.

Colorado health code says the temperature of the wash solution must be maintained at no less than 110 degrees Fahrenheit, unless a different temperature is specified on the cleaning agent manufacturer’s label instructions.

Pinedo said there’s a hole the size of a basketball in the kitchen floorboard that has been there for almost a year.

“How they got away with the health inspection, I do not know,” he said.

Hawkins, who was a dishwasher for Lone Spur, said there was an ongoing problem with wash rags. He said he spent almost a month hand-washing rags because the company that used to wash rags and aprons quit delivering cleaning products and toiletries to the Durango location because of lack of payment.

Furthermore, Hester said that Farley had multiple disputes with Sysco Corp. over failure to pay overdue balances, which resulted in the company dropping the restaurant as a client. Sysco spokeswoman Shannon Mutschler declined to comment on the employee’s accusations.

Farley declined to comment on the accusations about Sysco, but said the issue has since been taken care of. He added that it’s common practice for businesses to change or use different vendors.

Accusations extend across state lines

In December 2022, the Denton Chronicle-Record reported that Lone Spur Cafe’s Denton, Texas, location had abruptly closed, citing payroll and food safety issues.

Employees from the franchise’s Arizona locations also have experienced similar issues. A former cook at the north Scottsdale location sued for back wages against the company in 2020, claiming they were not paid for their final week of work. The lawsuit was settled, according to court records.

The lawsuit alleges that the plaintiff, Grant Wiggs, tried to contact Farley about his unpaid wages and never received a response.

Heather Beach worked for the Prescott location for three years and spent 10 months as the general manager.

She said employees never knew if the business had enough money to deposit or cash a paycheck.

“It was just sporadic,” she said.

She said managerial staff members were always told by the company that the Arizona locations were doing well and on occasion would bring in as much as $100,000 a month at the Prescott location.

“That didn’t make sense because we had checks that weren’t getting cleared,” Beach said. “There were issues with finances, and so we started to get really frustrated because we were making all of this money but why weren’t we getting paid?”

Jacob Crowder, a former prep cook at the Prescott Lone Spur location, said that he had four checks bounce during the 14 months he worked at the restaurant.

“We’d go down to the bank and they would shake their heads at us because there were the no funds to cash,” he said.

Beach said Farley gave a number of justifications as to why employees were not able to cash their checks, including issues with their point-of-sale system, the banks or an issue with the vendors.

The finance problem became so bad that Beach said from December 2022 to February 2023, she would pay for materials needed for the restaurant with her own credit card because vendors were not delivering food to the restaurant. This cost her at least $2,000 on her personal credit card.

She said that UniFirst, a company that provides toiletries and rags for the restaurant, repossessed the business’ paper products because Farley owed the company $15,000. Beach also said that after she confronted Farley about these issues, she was terminated.

Beach is unaware if any former employees have contacted the Arizona Department of Labor with their grievances about Lone Spur.

“From what I understand, it doesn’t hold as much weight when you’re no longer employed and you file stuff as when you’re an active employee,” she said.