Wormwood Restaurant Owner Out At The Guild Hotel In Downtown San Diego, Employees Claim Nonpayment Of Final Wages

June 4, 2024

The owner of area restaurants Wormwood in North Park and Tahona in Old Town, among others, is no longer managing dining operations at downtown San Diego's The Guild Hotel, and employees are claiming they remain owed final wages.

In July 2019, after general partner Oram Holdings performed an $80 million restoration of the iconic YMCA building, the 162-room Guild Hotel unveiled in downtown San Diego. Part of Marriott-owned Starwood Hotels' Tribute Portfolio line of luxury accommodations, the hotel's onsite, all-day restaurant Luca eventually shuttered at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020 and remained closed until The Guild Hotel partnered with Amar Harrag's Be Saha Hospitality Group to reignite the property's onsite dining & beverage programs in late 2022.

As of last month, after managing The Guild Hotel's onsite dining and events for a year and a half, Be Saha Hospitality is no longer involved, and the property's restaurant is once again on a wayward path. We've received reports that some, if not all employees have not been paid their final wages for May, with both Be Saha and The Guild pointing fingers at each other according to text messages sent from an employee.

Text messages forwarded by an employee show each side is blaming the other. 
"Be Saha Group just got out of a relationship with The Guild Hotel and they owe all their employees their last paycheck," wrote a current employee who wishes to remain anonymous. "I've been employed only since April and every paycheck since has been bounced. My first one in April bounced and now I’m waiting on my last paycheck from them and they don’t have the money for it and are leaving 50+ employees in debt on a week rent and bills are due."

Amar Harrag, a dual citizen of France and the U.S., opened mezcal-focused Tahona bar & restaurant in San Diego's Old Town in fall 2018. A native of France and graduate of University of San Diego, Harrag also co-owns numerous locations of Matisse Bistro in San Diego and Irvine. Under his Be Saha Hospitality Group, he also operates Hidden Craft self-serve beer bar and restaurant in downtown San Diego, Wormwood absinthe bar and French bistro in North Park/University Heights, NFT art gallery/Spanish restaurant and gin bar Botanica in North Park, and several dining and drinking operations in Baja California. He also runs real estate brokerage Allied Green Realty.

We have received messages from several former and current employees of The Guild Hotel and Be Saha Hospitality claiming non-payment of last month's wages, estimated to be over $60,000 outstanding and due to around 50 employees. Some staff members allege the company has frequently bounced checks at The Guild and other associated restaurants. Another former high level employee stated chronic non-payment has also caused issues with vendors and suppliers. 
"I recently worked for a company called Be Saha," wrote another current employee of The Guild Hotel. "They have checks bouncing on every one of their restaurants, adding automatic breaks when we didn’t have a chance to take just so they don't pay penalties, paying us through cash, Zelle or Venmo. They owe all of their employees three weeks of pay. We should have gotten paid May 31st and he still hasn't given us any money."

Be Saha Hospitality Group was initially planning to bring famed Tijuana chef Ruffo Ibarra of Baja’s Oryx Restaurante to repurpose The Guild's onsite dining space into a new Cali-Mexican restaurant, but those plans fell through without explanation. He eventually reimagined the Guild Bar, garden dining space and lounge, as well as took control of all onsite events and room service, with the help of chef and culinary director Janina Garay.

"Our paychecks constantly bounced at Wormwood, three out of four of them sometimes," wrote another former employee. "It's why all the chefs have quit there. Same with Tahona and Botanica. The owner was recently removed from anything to do with The Guild."
We reached out to Be Saha Hospitality proprietor Aram Harrag and Oram Holdings founders Alvin and Kevin Mansour. Although we did not hear back from Oram Holdings representatives, Mr. Harrag sent the below statement:

"As a small hospitality group, we joined the Guild Hotel project with high hopes in 2022. However, after the hotel's ownership took over management in early 2023, we started facing significant financial challenges due to their policy changes and poor accounting practices. Despite our efforts to maintain quality service, we struggled to collect the funds owed to us every month, impacting our ability to pay our staff and vendors. This situation has strained our entire group over the past year and underscores the importance for small F&B operators to protect themselves when entering contracts with larger entities. We are committed to resolving this issue and taking care of our employees. We hope for a timely release of the funds owed to us by the hotel's ownership."

Employees are considering organizing a protest to take place in front of The Guild Hotel at some point in the near future. They are hoping to receive their backpay without resorting to legal action.  

The Guild Hotel is located at 500 West Broadway in downtown San Diego. For more information, visit ​theguildhotel.com​ and be-saha.com.