Thomas Reese Olive Oil employees report unpaid wages

Area businesses step up to give them paychecks

 

By Megan Hopps
SUN PRESS Newspapers

Champlin’s Thomas Reese Olive Oil Co. — located on the corner of Highway 169 and Hayden Lake Road — closed unexpectedly just days before the Christmas holiday.
According to employee Deedre Dorholt, the bistro’s owner Christine Conrad rented U-hauls and cleared all products and equipment from the business. Dorholt said Conrad’s husband and co-owner James Deibel was out of town at the time.
Deibel’s Attorney John Chitwood of Full Circle Law said his client had no knowledge that this was happening.
“My client’s business partner [took] the assets and inventory including a large amount of business funds,” he said. “Because of that, the business was not able to pay their employees.”

Thomas Reese Olive Oil Co. opened in Champlin in 2014 and abruptly closed their doors just before Christmas in 2016. Fifteen employees were left without paychecks and local businesses Nadia Cakes and Mavericks Wood Grill gifted the employees by paying their missing wages. (Sun staff photo by Megan Hopps)
Thomas Reese Olive Oil Co. opened in Champlin in 2014 and abruptly closed their doors just before Christmas in 2016. Fifteen employees were left without paychecks and local businesses Nadia Cakes and Mavericks Wood Grill gifted the employees by paying their missing wages. (Sun staff photo by Megan Hopps)

Chitwood said there is an emergency motion hearing at the Anoka County Courthouse Friday, Jan. 6, where Deibel is planning to ask a judge to order his business partner to return the assets immediately so he can pay his employees.
“I think it was all calculated,” Dorholt said. “Now that I look back, everything’s coming full circle.”
Dorholt said she was friends with Conrad — their kids would get together for play dates and she would grab a drink with Conrad after a shift at the bistro. Dorholt recalled a conversation she had with Conrad a few months prior; Conrad had expressed interest in opening a business in North Dakota — where she is from.
“She admitted to me that she had looked at space in Fargo,” she said.
Dorholt said the day Thomas Reese closed was a payday. The bistro’s 15 employees have yet to receive their paychecks from the previous two weeks worth of work, she said.
“I just don’t know how you can do that to your employees,” Dorholt said. “I worked so much. I missed time with my family. All of us were so excited because our checks were going to big because we had been putting in extra hours.”
According to Dorholt, she put in nearly 12 hour days six days a week.
“She was short staffed,” she said. “She was my friend and I wanted to help.”
After the incident, Dorholt took to Facebook to warn the community that any gift cards purchased through the business could not be redeemed except through their online store which carries a flat rate shipping fee of $13.95. Dorholt said the city of Champlin recently purchased approximately 80 gift cards to give to their volunteers.
Upon learning that the business’ employees went without pay, two other local businesses — Maverick’s Wood Grill and Nadia Cakes — stepped up to pay their wages. Champlin residents and owners of Nadia Cakes in Maple Grove Carlos and Abby Jimenez teamed up with Maverick’s Wood Grill Owners Chase Franzen and Amber Vanderboarst to gift the employees by replacing their missing paychecks.
“This is a sad story that we couldn’t ignore in our community,” said Maverick’s owner Chase Franzen. “Missing a paycheck on Christmas, of all times, is not something that anyone should have to face.”
Dorholt said she was overwhelmed by the gesture and moved to tears.
“[We] have all worked paycheck to paycheck and know how difficult it must be to lose an entire two weeks worth of pay at Christmas,” said Nadia Cakes owner Abby Jimenez. “This gift will hopefully help to make all of you whole and bridge the gap until you can pursue your paychecks, which you absolutely should still do.”
Thomas Reese Olive Oil owners Conrad and Deibel have opened and closed two other businesses — an olive oil retail store at Crossroads Mall in St. Cloud and a restaurant, Ella’s Diner, in Northtown Mall in Blaine.
“I wasn’t looking for handouts,” Dorholt said. “I just want justice.”
Attorney Chitwood said it is Deibel’s intent to get the restaurant back up and running as soon as possible to honor all gift cards.
“It’s my client’s desire to get well with the employees and the community,” he said.
The Press reached out to owner Conrad but did not hear back.

Contact Megan Hopps at [email protected]