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He stresses that there is a plan to pay everyone what he or she is owed.
Grasso says that the negative gossip about Posniak continues to hurt Blanca’s bottom line. “A lot of the time, the reason Blanca has been slow is because the community said, ‘Down with Anton, down with Mor Project; we’re not going to support them.’ But in actuality, the more people do not support us—the new Blanca, if you will—the less we’ll be able to pay people.”
Grasso sits at one of the solid black tables in the dining room, cushioned white seats surrounding him. There are cooks in the kitchen just to the right, chattering while a radio plays lightly in the background. And there really is a “new” Blanca set in motion here.
In addition to a swap to the more affordable authentic-Mexican cuisine customized by Blanca’s old kitchen staff-cum-cooks and sushi bar, Posniak has stepped down from operations to an investor.
“We all had an agreement—look, the bad press that’s out there is bringing Blanca down. People are not coming here because they feel like they’ll be supporting a certain individual,” Grasso says.
Grasso explains that he came to Blanca just as staff began walking out and unrest was growing.
“As far as I can see on the books, we owe a vendor we didn’t pay,” he says. “They came by and repossessed.” There are agreements among employees that the repossession of the kitchen equipment—and that Daily Pilot article—weren’t exactly ethical as far as how the equipment was repossessed and who exactly had contacted the local press about it. While equipment-financing lines failed to come in due to what Posniak says is the poor state of the economy, commitments were already made, and thus equipment was delivered.
Meanwhile, Grasso says, things were happening left and right—unpaid employees, repossessed equipment—and he states that when questioned, Posniak responded with nonchalance, “’Hey, don’t worry about it. We’re going to take care of that; in two weeks we’re getting money coming in from a deal.’ It was a lot of talk. And it was sad—these are people’s lives that you’re dealing with. And these are people’s vendors that we all have personal relations with in order to get into this company, and now we’re screwing them.”
Grasso, who is owed past paychecks, says that no employee has been paid in full just yet. He says that the average amount owed is about a month’s pay. “Everyone is owed something; some are getting a full paycheck, and some are getting half or partial. But the fact of the matter is that they’re even getting paid gives them hope.”
His personal goal is to get everyone paid up by the end of the year, but he admits that’s not too realistic, due to the waterside location and the winter months coming up, the impending tax season, and the inevitable slow first quarter of the year for all restaurants. He estimates that an aim to wholly repay employees by the summer of next year is more likely.
Grasso, however, does believe an unfair portrait of Posniak has been painted by many who have not done their research. “I think that Anton has made some poor business decisions, and that has given him a bad reputation. He’s not going to get a Christmas card from me,” he chides. “But I could’ve left at any time. And these people talking to you? They could’ve left any time as well. No, it’s not right, and no, they should be getting paid still, most definitely, but if you don’t like an individual, and you don’t like what he’s doing, then leave.”
Grasso adds that since Posniak has stepped down from operations in August, many people have come out of the woodwork wanting to help Blanca.
“The message is not ‘Down with Blanca!’ and ‘Ha, ha, we showed Anton!’” he emphasizes. “The game plan is now to come and support Blanca. Yeah, yeah, Anton’s out. Yeah, yeah, Anton’s an idiot—whatever you guys want to say. Fine,” he says, with a wave of his hand. “He’s out of operations. It’s me, my partners—we collaborate.
“I believe in the project of this restaurant,” Grasso concludes. “And I believe that I’m an individual that can gather enough individuals that believe in me and be positive enough that we can make something of this place.”
* * *
The Mor Project is still in existence, not as a managing company, but as an investor. Posniak still holds a stake in Blanca under the Mor group along with another managing partner.
“I think Jeffrey is doing a fantastic job, and I don’t think right now there’s anything I can contribute other than advice when he needs it, help when he needs it. I think for this place to be successful, he needs the room to be able to navigate and run the operations that he does,” Posniak says.