An iconic restaurant in the Wichita Mountains now has to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for violating fair labor standards.
This comes after a lawsuit, filed back in 2015, against the owners of Meers store accused the restaurant of not complying with child labor laws among other offenses.
A federal judge has ordered the owners of Meers to pay more than $335,000 in wages and penalties to past employees.
Brent Harrison and Brad Smith took a three-hour drive from Tulsa with one thing in mind. Meers was a place Smith was looking forward to taking his friends.
“It was packed. The line would come out here and you would stand for 20 minutes. Get in and then stand for 10 and then get seated,” Smith said.
“I always just wanted a good burger. That’s what I was told they had and I was really excited,” Harrison said.
In 2015, a complaint was filed against the restaurant owners, alleging they owed unpaid wages to former employees and that they were using minors as young as 10 to work as bussers for tips only.
Although not available Tuesday for comment on the final ruling, owner Joe Maranto denied the charges when the investigation was launched.
“I personally believe that they don’t have anything on us that’s worth anything and we’re going to fight it. And I think what’s going on now is the same thing that happened when Jimmy Carter was president. They want money and if you’re successful, they’ll come after you,” Maranto said.
Following further investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor, the court is ordering the restaurant to pay $335,687 dollars in back wages and liquidated damages to 84 employees.
Investigators found the owners failed to pay minimum wage to workers, neglected to pay overtime wages and they did not keep required payroll records.
“I hope it like, fixes itself,” Harrison said. “Like I’d be real sad if people look back and go ‘oh Oklahoma is a place where they just let children work for nothing.'”
“Employees are entitled to receive all wages they have legally earned, and minors deserve the workplace protections put in place for them by law,” Betty Campbell, Wage and Hour Division Administrator said in a statement.
Meers is located just outside the oldest managed wildlife preserve in the United States.
The Meers store is basically what there is to see in Meers, just a 1.5 miles north of the Wichita Mountains.
The Meers store was actually built during a short gold rush at the mountains in 1901. Joe Maranto has owned the place since beginning in 1983.
In 1988— the place started serving its famous Meers burgers: made of grass-fed, low- fat longhorn beef.
Meers has been featured on the Food Network and in Bon Appetit magazine among others.
It’s also voted Oklahoma’s “best burger” and Playboy Magazine even said it has one of the 10 best burgers in the nation.
Meers owner Joe Maranto released a statement Tuesday night that stated:
“Meers Store and Restaurant was born 35 years ago this Memorial Day weekend. We had an
entirely new concept. We raise our own longhorn beef. We promise the biggest and best
hamburger in the West. Our success is built on repeat business – once you have been here
you will come back. Our story is a good one. The Federal Government sued us alleging that
we did not keep precise records. The Federal Government claimed that they could not tell
how we computed with wages for our employees and thus the Federal Government then
proceeded to calculate what our employee wages should be. We disagreed. The Federal
Government filed a lawsuit. We lost the first round but we are filing an appeal.
We will weather the storm, just as we also have for 35 years. We are fortunate to have the
best employees and we believe they should be treated fairly.
Our success is because of our own loyal customers. Thank you for your continuing support.
Wouldn’t one of our giant delicious burgers taste great right about now? Come on out – the
grill is fired up.”