A pair of former Café Habana servers who are not involved in the lawsuit have told us that the “Habana Girls” calendar was initially their idea, but that owner Sean Meenan turned the project into what one of the former employees calls a “maniacal scheme.” Nicole Roderick, who was a server at the restaurant until late 2007, says she and a colleague originally planned the calendars to consist of “classic, burlesque-type photos that were a bit more high-end.” Meenan, the servers say, decided to take the them in a different direction, and Roderick opted out. The next week, she says, “my dinner shifts kind of dropped down, and there was a little shade thrown my way because I was the one person who didn’t do it. I’d have three lunches and one dinner, and when I asked why, there’d be a ridiculous excuse like, ‘Oh, you didn’t fill the salt and pepper shakers,’ or ‘you forgot Sean’s plantain order.’”
Meanwhile, Roderick’s friend and coworker, who we spoke to separately and asked to remain anonymous, says she agreed to pose for the inaugural calendar (which was her idea), but reconsidered after Meenan became upset with her for failing to check in about hair and makeup. “He yelled at me about it, and it made me upset and I told him I wasn’t going to pose.” The waitress went ahead with the shoot anyway, only to discover that a week of shifts had been X-ed out on her schedule. “When I called him to ask him the reason, he told me it was because of my performance during the photo shoot and how he wasn’t happy with how everything had turned out, and how my job was to make him happy.” She says Meenan also called her and her colleagues a “flaky bunch of bitches.”
The anonymous waitress says that after the calendar shoot in April of 2007, she left Café Habana in October (she had been working there since 2004). “After the situation with the calendar, I kind of felt like I was under watch, and they were going to fire me any day now over something they would’ve said didn’t have anything to do with the calendar situation, but probably would have.” She didn’t quit sooner, she says, because the money was good, she loved her colleagues, and she worried about making less money and having less freedom of dress elsewhere. Contrary to the complaint, she says she was not asked to wear sexy clothing. “When we were there it felt sexy, but it was sexy in a fun way. Our complaints had more to do with living in fear of being fired every day for something ridiculous.”
Likewise, Roderick says, “Yes we would wear what people would term ‘sexy’ clothing but that’s because there was no air conditioning, and it was 100-something degrees in the summer. But it was never ‘oh you need to wear a low-cut shirt.’” Regarding allegations that servers were required to share tips with a hostess, Roderick says that indeed tips would go toward a hostess (who was usually one of the servers, but was sometimes a manager who filled in) to cover her pay of $60 per four-hour shift.
Asked to describe Meenan as a boss, Roderick says, “He was very passive aggressive—everything had to be on his terms. Or he’d yell at you in front of people — very degrading.” Her anonymous colleague says he was “tyrannical.” “I just remember not understanding how he couldn’t see how amazing and talented and intelligent everyone was,” says that source. “I think his ego got the best of him and [he] underestimated us, and he didn’t understand that someone would eventually write a story about him or file a lawsuit.”