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Owner of Bao Bao House responds to labor violations

Brian Bull
The exterior and front patio of Bao Bao House.

Last week we reported on U.S. labor officials finding a Eugene restaurant in violation of several regulations. Now the owner is speaking out.

Ji Li said he made a mistake when he paid workers a flat fee above minimum wage, and incorporated tips back into overhead costs including wages. He told KLCC that many things changed for his business when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, requiring them to close off the dining area of Bao Bao House, and rely on delivery services such as DoorDash and Grub Hub. He said he and his staff agreed to a $20 an hour wage, which came to $200 a day for workers which he felt was an above average income as the pandemic economy continued to worsen things.

Li added that Bao Bao House is his first restaurant, founded in 2018 near Eugene’s Park Blocks. Given the challenges of the pandemic and his wife’s failing health, he says he should have hired an attorney to keep his practices within the law.

“I just want people to know I’m not a bad guy, to purpose(ly) take the tips from my employees. That’s not a person I am,” he said. “I made that mistake, I didn’t follow the rules, the laws.”

Li acknowledged that there’s been outrage from customers and the Eugene community over the news about his violations. He said he now plans to sell his share in the restaurant, and spend more time with his 9-year-old daughter as his wife spent her final days in a hospice before dying in April. Li says he hopes divesting himself from the restaurant will put Bao Bao House back in good standing.

“I’m really sorry. It hurts my customer, I know our customer love our food, they support us, even through the pandemic. But the mistake, I already made.”

The U.S. Labor Department says the violations occurred in 2020 and 2021. In its report, labor officials say backwages have been recovered, damages paid, and a penalty was also paid by Bao Bao House, officially listed as Li & Yu Restaurant LLC.

Copyright @2022, KLCC.

Brian Bull joined the KLCC News Team in June 2016. In his 25+ years as a public media journalist, he's worked at NPR, Twin Cities Public Television, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Wisconsin Public Radio, and ideastream in Cleveland. His reporting has netted dozens of accolades, including four national Edward R. Murrow Awards (19 regional), the Ohio Associated Press' Best Reporter Award, Best Radio Reporter from the Native American Journalists Association, and the PRNDI/NEFE Award for Excellence in Consumer Finance Reporting.
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