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Bootleggers

The windows of the former Bootleggers are shown covered Friday. The restaurant and bar at 423 S. Pearl St. closed its doors earlier this week. Some employees say they are owed hundreds of dollars in back pay and fear they won't get their money. 

SIOUX CITY -- After less than four months in business, Bootleggers has closed up shop.

Some former employees say they're owed hundreds of dollars in back wages from the owners of the downtown restaurant and bar at 423 S. Pearl St.

Kaleigh Smith, who worked at Bootleggers as a server and bartender from Feb. 4 to March 3, said the restaurant owes her roughly $400 in hourly pay. The only wages she collected were the cash tips patrons left for her.

When she tried to cash a $47 paycheck, she was told "this company that gave you your check has no money. There's no money to cover your $47." 

She later quit, saying she couldn't afford to work without pay. "I still have an eviction notice over my head," she said Friday.

Kass Kunze and Jacob Woehler, friends, roommates and former Bootleggers employees, are among the former workers who also say they're owed money. They both had previously worked for Bootleggers owner Don Harsma when he operated Boss' Pizza & Chicken in South Sioux City. 

Kunze, who worked as an assistant manager, said he is owed $1,784.36. Woehler, a delivery driver and later cook, has not yet seen wages of roughly $1,000. 

Two of Kunze's paychecks were $120 short, and they bounced. By that time, the restaurant already owed him back pay. 

"My bank cashed it, but then they sent it back in the mail saying that it bounced," he said. 

Woehler and Kunze's careers at Bootleggers ended at the same time around a month ago. 

Employees had begun complaining about missed paychecks weeks before the restaurant closed.

Don Harsma's son, Gannon Harsma, who served as Bootleggers general manager, told The Journal on April 2 that "all paychecks are up to date" with current employees. Gannon Harsma added that former Bootleggers workers also were, "were guaranteed to be paid."

"They have acted irrationally after the guarantee to be paid....as soon as possible," he said.

Harsma added at the time, "Growth in the past week has been exponential."

Neither Don nor Gannon Harsma responded to phone calls or emails from The Journal on Friday. 

Jim Harris, wage investigator with the Iowa Division of Labor, said if former Bootleggers employees want to file a wage claim, the state agency can open an official investigation.

"We cannot take action unless someone files an official wage claim with us," Harris said.

Kunze, who has since found a new job at a Popeye's in Sioux City, said he has filed a complaint against Bootleggers with the state. Woehler has not. 

"Everybody tells me I gotta get a lawyer and take him to small claims court," Woehler said. "I really don't feel like doing all that, because I already worked for the money." 

The building that housed Bootleggers was formerly the home of McCarthy & Bailey’s, an Irish-themed pub that opened in 2011. The 1917 structure was one of a series of run-down buildings in the 400 and 500 block of Pearl Street that Sioux City businessman and developer Rick Bertrand refurbished about a decade ago.

Despite initial success, McCarthy & Bailey’s closed in October 2018 after new owners Doug and Mark Kwikkel cited sales volume that fell short of expectations.

Bootleggers moved in at the end of 2018, first at 419 S. Pearl, which formerly housed The Big Snug, and later expanded to the adjacent 423 S. Pearl St. on Super Bowl Sunday.

Bootleggers specialized in pizza and also promoted a historic theme.

In a late January interview, Gannon Harsma told The Journal Bootleggers would "transport the diner to the days of the Prohibition. Even our servers will look like they’ve stepped out of the 1920s." 

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