SHANGHAI: Yao Restaurant, which gets its fame from people believing it is connected with Chinese NBA star Yao Ming, closed last Friday, leaving dozens of unpaid, stunned employees standing around outside.
The restaurant is behind in its obligations nearly 100,000 yuan ($15,000), local media reported.
Some 17 employees of the restaurant have applied for arbitration, said a deputy chief of Jing'an District Labor and Social Security Bureau surnamed Ge. He would not give the exact amount of money involved.
The restaurant opened in 2006 as a flagship restaurant called Yeeha Texas BBQ & Sports Bar and Yao Restaurant in Chinese.
The business was initiated by Yu Di. Yu and Yao are both shareholders of Yao Restaurant and Bar in Houston, Texas.
Yao Ming and his agent denied they get any profit from the Shanghai restaurant.
"Yao Ming and his family members didn't get a penny from the restaurant and didn't get involved in the operation," Zhang Mingji, who is in charge of Yao's management team, was quoted by National Business Daily as saying.
Yao and his family did not invest directly in the restaurant. The restaurant uses the name of Yao because Yu is a friend of Yao's family, according to Zhang.
Fei Yunsheng, an employee who worked for two years at the restaurant, said more than 20 employees didn't get their salary on time.
"The restaurant owes me a half-month's salary," he told China Daily Wednesday. The restaurant's chef is owed more than 10,000 yuan, Fei said.
The restaurant was closed Wednesday, with a note hanging on the door saying that the business is closing temporarily for interior decoration, and it will reopen on Nov 1.
"The restaurant was just decorated this August," said Xu Liang, a cook who has worked at the restaurant for more than two months and has never been paid. He claimed the employer owes him 5,100 yuan.
Xu said one employee found the note on the wall last Friday. "We were surprised to find that the most valuable equipment in the dining hall, such as the LCD TVs and computers, had disappeared," he said. "None of us were told the restaurant would close."
Zhao Yue, the contractor for the restaurant who took over its operation in August, denied there were disputes between the restaurant and employees.
He told China Daily over phone that the restaurant will reopen soon. "The restaurant doesn't owe any salary to employees," Zhao said.