The Golden Dragon may have roared its last, but the death of this notorious Chinatown restaurant — the scene of a gang massacre in 1977 — has left behind trail of lawsuits, and workers are complaining it stiffed them out of a year’s worth of unpaid wages.
Former Golden Dragon employees held a press conference Wednesday demanding that San Francisco’s Office of Labor order the restaurant’s owners to pay the workers $1.5 million in penalties on top of the $195,897 in wages and the city another $1.5 million in fines.
The workers already recouped $150,000 in March 2005 from the owners, said Alex Tom, a coordinator for the Chinese Progressive Association, a Chinatown advocacy group. Now, the owners “are trying to change the name” to avoid paying the rest, he said.
“They are trying to find ways not to have to pay people back,” Tom said. “And the workers want to hold the employers accountable.”
The employees kept working, he said, because the financially shaky restaurant kept promising to pay them.
Even before the wage claim reignited this week, the restaurant and its owners had returned to the spotlight.
Co-owner Jack Lee is a longtime elder in the Hop Sing tong, an influential brotherhood that owns the restaurant’s Washington Street building, and he was seen dining with the brotherhood’s former president, Allen Leung, just before Leung was shot to death in February.
Lee, a Chinatown leader, and Big Hong Ng, a former Chinese opera star, former lovers and co-owners of the Golden Dragon, opened the restaurant together in 1964 and lived together for 30 years, court filings allege, even though Lee was married to a woman in Los Angeles and maintained a relationship with a third woman in Hong Kong.
As a community leader, Lee marketed the restaurant and helped bring in a steady stream of customers. But the business began to falter after he moved out of the home he shared with Ng in 1998, court filings allege.
In December, he sued her to recoup a roughly $450,000 loan his company made to the restaurant business. Ng countersued, alleging Lee embezzled and took “money directly out of the cash registers.”
And in January, the city shut down the Golden Dragon for health code violations. On Friday, Winnie Ng — sister of the Golden Dragon co-owner Big Hong Ng — will re-open the renovated restaurant as the Imperial Palace.
She said the Imperial Palace is a “separate entity.” And, as such, it does not owe the Golden Dragon workers any money at all.
Big Hong Ng did not respond to a request for comment made through her attorney.
Paul Wartelle, Lee’s attorney, discounted the claims in Ng’s countersuit and said he and Lee are working with the city to settle Lee’s share of the wage claims and penalties.
“We want to do our part to see workers are taken care of,” Wartelle said.
In the 1970s, the Hop Sing tong was torn by violence as younger members struggled for power with older leaders. In a gang battle at the Golden Dragon in 1977, five bystanders were killed and 11 injured. The apparent target, a Hop Sing enforcer, was unharmed.
by Vanessa Hua (SF Gate)