Meet Dastoor’s “new owner”!

In response to being exposed in a major media outlet, Royal India’s wage thief bosses have begun claiming the restaurant is “under new ownership”, and are in the process of renaming it to Dastoor. But is there really a new owner, and, if so, who are they?

Some digging by a Reddit user revealed the answer: public records show that “Dastoor” is owned by a shell corporation called SMJM LLC, owned by Royal India’s long time abusive manager Alina Florescu. Alina was running the restaurant when a SeaSol-er casually stopped by to check. 

We’ve been hearing horror stories about the Florescu sisters Estera and Alina since the start of this fight. They’re intimately involved in wage theft and they live in a house owned by the Bhattis; we are told they are even included in international Bhatti vacations. Since we began exposing Royal India, the Florescus have been trying to antagonize our picketers and have a nasty habit of nearly hitting us with their cars. In other words, they’re loyal, deeply implicated in crimes, and don’t have very good judgment – perfect to take the fall for the Bhattis as everything starts to unravel.

The bottom line: “Dastoor” is run by the same awful people as Royal India, and it’s no surprise. This is obviously a clumsy and transparent rebranding, but the Bhattis and Florescus never did think much of their customers. 

Bhatti Crimes in the Seattle Times

Updated June 24th, 2024 to clarify Dastoor rebranding

Front page of the Seattle Times

Last week Royal India (Now Dastoor Indian Eatery & Catering) was featured on the front page of the Seattle Times Sunday Edition in a story about wage theft. You can read the full article here:
Wage theft victims are owed $5.4 million that WA hasn’t collected (archive link). The story uses numerous references to Royal India to describe how our state government systematically fails to hold thieving employers accountable, something we’ve written about many times before.

The non-chain restaurant with the most complaints [for wage theft] was Royal India, a casual-dining Indian restaurant and catering company with two locations in Lynnwood and Kirkland that date back to 2004. Owner Mohammad Rashid Bhatti and manager Aeisha Bhatti have been the subjects of at least 37 wage complaints from workers since 2018.

The Seattle Times

Since this story was published, the Bhattis have closed down their location in Kirkland and taken down the Royal India sign. They’ve also dubiously claimed that the Lynnwood location is “under new ownership” and seems to be in the process of renaming that location to Dastoor, while keeping the same website and menu. We’re glad to see that their decades-old brand’s reputation is finally catching up to their true character but there’s more work to be done.

We’ll let the reader decide if someone has really chosen to buy a disgraced restaurant with no real estate, very high staff turnover and a toxic brand that they’re scrambling to leave behind. Either way, the owner is still responsible for paying that business’s debts, including all the workers the business has robbed in the past. 

SeaSol will be coming back to remind the community of those debts until the owners pay Juan and Pedro every penny. If the Bhattis think they can hide behind such a lazily constructed facade, they’re going to be very disappointed.

City Orders Work Stoppage Due to Dangerous Conditions at Royal India Kirkland

Image of Work Stoppage Sign Photos from Royal India Kirkland
Photo of Work Stoppage Signs Posted on Royal India Kirkland’s Doors

On March 7, 2024, the Planning and Building Department of the City of Kirkland forced Royal India’s Kirkland location to close its doors with a stop work notice due to dangerous conditions at the restaurant. The conditions Royal India’s owners, the infamous Bhatti family, have continuously failed to address represent a serious public safety concern. The restaurant failed to bring their hood suppression system into compliance with regulations for fire protection of commercial cooking operations enforced by the City–regulations put in place to keep workers, customers, and neighbors safe. The notice posted at noon on March 7th states that “deadlines were repeatedly extended and details of needs outlined numerous times without compliance. Final deadline was: February 29, 2024.” 

This recklessness the Bhattis displayed with the safety of their workers and customers is more evidence of a pattern of behavior for these crooked business owners. They break laws left and right, with no concern for the impacts of their self-serving and dangerous behavior on others as long as it lines their own pockets. They appear to think that laws do not apply to them (and they usually get away with it–see our previous blog post on how and why!).

In addition to being kept safe from hazardous fire conditions, workers at Royal India restaurants deserve to be paid properly and promptly for their work, and to be treated with respect. On March 25, 2023, members of the Seattle Solidarity Network went to the Kirkland restaurant location and delivered a demand to the Bhatti family to pay two former workers, Juan and Pedro, $130 and $1,500 respectively in stolen wages. These demands have not been met. Help us show Aeisha and Mohammad Rashid Bhatti that they cannot continue to steal from their workers and do business in our communities by boycotting both locations of Royal India Fine Dining & Catering until Juan and Pedro are paid what they are owed.

Happy New Year!

Updated June 24th, 2024 to clarify Dastoor rebranding

For many of us, the holidays are a time to reconnect with family and share stories of the last year, and few things have been a richer source of stories this year than the sordid deeds of the Royal India (Now Dastoor) owners and our campaign for justice.

The tale has a great hook – people are amazed to learn that the Bhattis have robbed more than 20 workers, and often shocked that they got away with it time and again. As listeners lean in, we take them on a long journey. It becomes a detective story as we delve into the Bhattis’ track record and uncover new dirt – the filthy kitchen lawsuit, the illegal evictions, the nannies the family robbed and abused, the 8 models they hired for a photo shoot and then didn’t pay. It detours into comedy as we describe the impotently angry face of Aeisha Bhatti this spring when she tried to suppress our protest and ended up arguing with the police outside the door of her restaurant for the better part of an hour (side note: this tactic has still not worked and the face remains the same!) It touches on social issues – immigration, race, class, caste, gender, pandemic politics (did you know they got a PPP loan, while committing wage theft?) It veers into the absurd this summer when Mr. Bhatti Sr. tells one picketer handing out leaflets to “put it in your ass”, and tells another picketer at a different action he will “eat your pussy”. It teases unexplored side quests as we learn how the Bhattis have conned customers at their wedding planning business, Marigold Design House. It marks the passing of the seasons, the slow burn of their Google rating declining over months while we surprise the Bhattis during summer festivals, Halloween, and on Thanksgiving day. And it keeps the listener guessing – what tactic will we try next? We have lots to choose from.

Unfortunately for the Bhattis, this story isn’t over yet. We’re still driving away customers, spreading their bad reputation to the world, and costing them thousands of dollars. All because they refuse to pay Juan and Pedro the $1,630 that they’re owed. Some bosses are smart and can do arithmetic, but the Bhattis are slow learners.

How do they get away with it?

Updated June 24th, 2024 to clarify Dastoor rebranding

When we talk to people in the community about Royal India (Now Dastoor Indian Eatery & Catering) and its owners’ constant theft and abuse, many can’t believe they’d still be in business after doing all these things. Other folks we meet have an existing connection to Royal India and actually even more horror stories to share. There’s far more than we have time to write up, so we’ve got to prioritize!

This week’s horror story is special because it answers the first question: Could they really do this and get away with it?

Last Thursday (Aug 3) King County Public Health closed down Royal India at 3 PM because of an “imminent health hazard”. The bosses responded by ignoring the closure order and opening for dinner that same day. After calls from members of the community asking for additional followthrough, the health department showed up again on Friday and “reminded them” they were closed until further notice. That’s the courtesy bosses get. Unsurprising to our community, they continued to remain open and serving food all weekend.

The Bhattis have learned a lesson that we all should learn: Government is set up to shield business owners from accountability. This protection allows them to continue ripping ordinary people off without consequences, and they do. Even when workers or consumers manage to get laws passed that are supposed to protect them, the burden is on the victim to push and persuade the powerful (i.e., the government or bosses) to care, and any enforcement is often a joke.

Across the US, the amount of money lost to wage theft is greater than all robberies, burglaries and motor vehicle thefts combined. The majority of these stolen wages are never recovered by workers. [Source here.] When ordinary people fall behind on bills, we are constantly harassed by collection agencies. People (particularly BIPOC) are arrested (or killed) for stealing very little, but when business owners steal from their workers, the government barely bothers.

That’s why Aeisha Bhatti has a string of unpaid wage theft judgments and lost court cases that her family simply ignores. That’s why the Bhattis can illegally evict workers after robbing them. And that’s also why SeaSol exists. We’re not willing to plead with the government, then sit around and wait for them to do nothing. We’re working-class people who have come together to hold bosses accountable and win justice in our community.

Royal India Kirkland shut down for health hazards

Pickets expose Royal India bosses’ shameful behavior

Updated June 24th, 2024 to clarify Dastoor rebranding

It’s been 4 months since SeaSol and former Royal India workers delivered their demand letter to get their unpaid wages, and Royal India (Now Dastoor) STILL hasn’t paid them. But what’s been happening since then? Here’s a summary:

  • SeaSol and workers have been picketing steadily with plenty of energy to keep up the fight! Community members in Kirkland have shown overwhelming support, and many have their own stories to tell about bad experiences at Royal India.
  • At every picket, more workers come forward. There is now a list of over 20 workers who have not been paid by the thieving Bhatti bosses, who try to scare them away. The stories are all the same: the workers’ weeks or months of hard work is met with no money, bounced checks, “come back tomorrow, come back next week” excuses, and/or threats and intimidation.
  • Instead of paying their workers, the Royal India bosses have spent their money and time on having a lawyer write a bogus cease-and-desist letter (protesting is protected by the First Amendment) and very poorly-made counter picket signs. The Bhatti family appeared to rope in many different family members and spouses. They and their managers write phony reviews online pretending to be “very satisfied customers” or “happy workers” from Royal India.
  • There are some exciting developments behind the scenes – stay tuned for more information soon!
Picketing Royal India wage-thieving bosses in the rain
Picketing Royal India wage-thieving bosses in the rain – photo credit to B.B. on Facebook

Royal India’s Shameful Paper Trail

Updated June 24th, 2024 to clarify Dastoor rebranding

The bosses at Royal India (Now Dastoor Indian Eatery & Catering) have no trouble lying to your face about their pattern of abusive behavior. Wage theft? They’ve never heard of it! Unpaid taxes? Certainly not!

Unfortunately for them, public records obtained by SeaSol don’t lie. When a worker in Washington State is robbed by their employer, they can file a claim with the Department of Labor and Industries (L&I). If the state finds in favor of the worker and the employer doesn’t pay, a warrant is eventually issued that becomes part of public court records. Guess how many wage theft warrants Royal India has?

It’s easy to check this yourself. Just go to the L&I website’s wage violations page and search for Royal India. We still can’t tell if these workers were ever paid their stolen wages, let’s hope so.

But that’s not the only way the Bhatti family steals from workers and our community. They also don’t pay worker’s comp, payroll taxes or unemployment insurance.

When a business employs a worker, they’re also required to pay payroll taxes that go to the worker’s Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and unemployment insurance. They must send a W-2 form to the IRS and the worker documenting the wages and taxes paid. We’ve heard from several workers who haven’t gotten W-2s, meaning Royal India is most likely not paying these taxes. So it’s not surprising that we found these nine tax citations against Royal India.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Why? Let us explain.

Reporting wage theft to the Department of Labor and Industries can be a long and intimidating process for working people, especially when they don’t speak fluent English. The bosses at Royal India have a history of threatening workers to scare them into silence.

Even when workers know and exercise their legal rights, the Labor and Industries (L&I) enforcement process is slow. When a worker files a claim, it takes 60 days for L&I to make a judgment. After that they may issue a citation to the employer. The employer can appeal, delaying the process further. When the worker finally wins, the state will “make every attempt to, but cannot guarantee, collection”. In other words, they don’t guarantee you’ll get paid. Good luck getting Royal India to pay when their vendors, the taxman, and their own landlord couldn’t.

When you’re struggling to make rent because you haven’t been paid for weeks or months of work, slogging through this bureaucracy might not be your best bet. Bosses know this; too often they get away with it because wage theft is hard to fight.

Consider this: you’ve had only a taste of the Bhatti family’s predatory behavior. Like many things you’d taste at Royal India, it’s dirtier than the owners let on. For them, robbing and abusing workers is a routine part of their business. Royal India’s bosses can threaten, lie, and bully all they want, but they can’t hide anymore. The evidence of their thieving is right there for the world to see.

Filthy Conditions at Royal India Kirkland restaurant

Updated June 24th, 2024 to clarify Dastoor rebranding

The owners of Royal India (Now Dastoor Indian Eatery & Catering) have a long history of being sued in Washington State, but not all of the cases against them are about stealing wages from workers and citations by Labor and Industries. Some cases are about the horrendously unsanitary conditions in their kitchen and restaurant.

The landlord of the strip mall in which Royal India resides sued them to retake the property after Royal India harbored a massive rat infestation (King County court case 19-2-08019-1 SEA).

Photos from the lawsuit show dead rats, rat feces throughout the restaurant, raw meat left out, and food left out on the floor…

Tens of thousands of dollars in repair were needed to address the rats (individual checks listed on the case total $23,075 in rat damage!) including rats from Royal India invading other tenants at the strip mall…

The Bhatti family did not pay their rent or the rat damage, and has caused problems in the Juanita Square stripmall for many years.

In addition to causing thousands in damage with their unsanitary food handling and kitchen maintenance practices, court documents mention thousands of dollars of unpaid rent by Royal India to their landlord. Aeisha and Mohammad Bhatti’s refusal to pay what they owe seems to be a pattern of behavior for them–their landlord, along with their workers and other business associates, have a terrible time getting these thieving bosses to pay what they owe

Workers we have spoken with confirmed the disgusting conditions in the Royal India restaurants, mentioning additional food safety problems such as one of the bosses taking food off a customer’s half-eaten plate with his fingers and adding it to another customer’s about-to-be-served meal. Former workers’ primary concern is getting their hard-earned wages paid. Unsanitary conditions, on top of abusive labor practices, provide customers with all the more reason to boycott Royal India.

Are you a current or former worker at Royal India? Still not paid for your work?  Get in touch!

Wage Theft and Worker Abuse at Royal India Restaurants

Help out with the fight by joining SeaSol!

Updated June 24th, 2024 to clarify Dastoor rebranding

The Seattle Solidarity Network (SeaSol) recently learned of many shocking allegations of wage theft and illegal evictions from worker housing happening at the Royal India Fine Dining & Catering (Now Dastoor Indian Eatery & Catering) restaurants in Kirkland (9714 Juanita Drive NE) and Lynnwood (7531 196th St SW). The restaurants are owned by Mohammad Rashid Bhatti and operated by his daughter, Aeisha Bhatti. The Bhatti family owns several businesses in the Puget Sound area, many of them started by Mohammad Rashid and handed down to the next generation – Aeisha, Zerha, and Alveena.

Nine workers have approached SeaSol so far, all telling similar stories of unpaid wages, multiple checks bouncing several times in a row, and more. Workers report that they do not receive pay stubs or W2’s for working at Royal India, yet the bad Bhatti bosses withhold unexpected and arbitrary amounts of money for “rent” (at company housing) and “taxes”. Alarmingly, workers report that others have been fired and aggressively “evicted” from company housing after asking for their unpaid wages. These evictions allegedly consist of workers’ belongings being unceremoniously tossed on the street without notice by members of the Bhatti family as retribution for asking for overdue paychecks.

These workers’ horrifying experiences prompted us to look into the Bhatti family’s history. We quickly realized that these 9 workers’ stories were not isolated cases, but part of a pattern of abuse and violation of workers’ rights spanning many years. This family has a long history (publicly available via the Washington State Courts website) of not paying their business debts, with several writs of garnishment and judgments against them on file for delinquent taxes, unpaid rent, unpaid bills to restaurant contractors, and unpaid wages and/or minimum wage act violations.

Aeisha Bhatti’s checks frequently bounce, even for a home caregiving service she employed.

Many people and governmental departments have sued the Bhattis for money they owe, have won in court, and some have had to go back and get the court to help them garnish money when the Bhattis continued not to pay their debts. In April of last year, the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (WA L&I) won two cases against Aeisha Bhatti (case numbers 22-2-50329-1 and 22-2-05328-3). 

Even with a cursory look at Glassdoor, we saw that several workers had corroborated current workers’ problems with late or stolen pay, no W2’s or pay stubs, and complaints of poor treatment at the hands of management.

Statement from a Royal India worker on Glassdoor, from Aug 2021
Statement from a Royal India worker on Glassdoor, from March 2023

Workers at Royal India deserve to be paid properly and promptly for their work, and to be treated with respect. On March 25, members of the Seattle Solidarity Network went to the Kirkland restaurant location and delivered a demand to the Bhatti family to pay two former workers, Juan and Pedro, $430 and $1500 respectively in stolen wages. These demands have not been met. 

Workers and supporters deliver the demand for payment to Royal India’s boss on March 25, 2023

Help us show Aeisha and Mohammad Rashid Bhatti that they cannot continue to steal from their workers and do business in our communities by boycotting both locations of Royal India Fine Dining & Catering until Juan and Pedro are paid what they are owed. 

We know that Mohammad Rashid, Aeisha, and the rest of the Bhatti family own and operate several other businesses (including more restaurants) in our area. Stay tuned for calls to boycott these other businesses in the future. 

Are you a worker or former worker at Royal India? Get in touch! 

An injury to one is an injury to all!