To date I have not written about how disrespectfully I was treated by Zest, hoping that some degree of decency would prevail by its so-called ‘owner and operator’ Chef Pavel Dimitrov. I referred the matter to the CCMA, as I have not been paid outstanding compensation, and in the proceedings I was treated with the utmost disrespect by the labour relations consultancy representing Zest.
I have decided that the time is right to tell my story, and that of abused Zest staff too!
In my two years of working for Chef Pavel, and GM Patso Ivanov, two Bulgarians that are best buddies, I have observed dreadful mistreatment of waitrons at the hands of the latter, who swears at staff on the floor, using the f-word to staff with great regularity, arriving at work moody on many days, growling at dining guests, and acting as a prima donna if a guest dare complain about the food. Chef Pavel was sent all the Zest reviews, including the ones that complained about the treatment they received from Ivanov in the restaurants. Nothing was ever done to rein Ivanov in, and it appeared that Dimitrov condoned Ivanov’s behaviour, and its threat to the Zest business. It was my job to reply to reviews, a tough job when so many were negative! I even witnessed a screaming match between Ivanov and his wife Lizahn in the passage between the newkings boutique hotel and Zest, whilst I was showing someone the Gaia Gift Boutique, an unhealthy nepotistic work relationship.
I was requested to join Dimitov’s Zest Opening team, operating inside the newkings hotel, in May 2021, as a joint Communications Consultant to both the hotel and restaurant, at a heavily discounted fee, with a last minute addition of the Gaia Gift Boutique belonging to the partner of the newkings hotel owner. Each party paid me separately at the end of each month.
I wrote my own job description, posting daily on Instagram and Facebook, and responding to client reviews. I was entrusted to what I thought best for the business, given free reign at Zest. The former Zest GM Nelson Ferreira was not interested in having weekly Status meetings with me, and this gave me even more freedom. A dream job, for 14 months. When Ivanov took over as GM, he wanted to meet with me, but made me regularly wait for at least half an hour after our appointment time, while he did admin tasks. His input was minimal, and still I could do what I deemed best for Zest!
At newkings things were very different, working for a very temperamental GM Martine Wood, who refused to work with me for the first three months, after I presented an evaluation of the hotel’s website which was riddled with spelling and content errors, the copy having been cobbled together by her and a Revenue Management Consultant. I met with newkings hotel owner Romao De Luz in the three month period, and he was supportive, and I continued doing what was best for the hotel Communications, rewriting the hotel website copy, and posting on Social Media. She would not let me touch review replies, and I was horrified to see the poor writing in them, always defensive! One day she was given an ultimatum to pull herself together, and have the weekly meetings with me, or else….. She complied, but never forgave me, taking my website feedback personally. She was moody, treated me as her personal punchbag, and I often had to meet with Da Luz to request guidance on how to deal with her verbal abuse. Many a day I wanted to resign, but I did not want to let the fledgling restaurant and the partner hotel down. Martine was severely disliked by all Zest managers except Dimitrov, who allowed her to push him around. She would bypass me and get him to agree to things that were Communication related, without discussing it with or consulting me. She felt that she was actually handling the marketing of Zest, being disrespectful of me.
In June she demanded last minute of me that I not attend an important meeting which involved both the restaurant and the hotel, as she did not want to pay for the R150 breakfast cost of my attendance, given that she had called the meeting. I communicated this to Da Luz, and he said that he would pay for all to attend, and so I made my way to the meeting. I had just arrived when I was called to his office, and told that I should go, as the interaction with Wood would never work. He was on the doorstep of a winter-long European holiday and apparently did not want his holiday spoilt with her continuous petty complaints about me, never communicated to me. In the year of working with the hotel, I saw a continuous turnover of staff, especially at Reception, as one after the other staff member resigned because of her. I received a promise of a two month pay by newkings hotel, which was dutifully kept. I was relieved to be freed of the unprofessional abuse by this woman!
At no time in the 14 months of working with the hotel and the restaurant did I ever receive any negative feedback about any aspect of my work. In hindsight I think I was appointed due to my reputation as a restaurant reviewer, and the power it had to attract diners to the restaurant. We were fully booked most evenings, but struggled with lunch and breakfast bookings. Not even the hotel wanted to offer Zest Breakfast-inclusive packages to its clients, as it would increase the accommodstion price by R150 per person, so sales-driven was the Hotel GM! I regularly sent business to the hotel, with no word of thanks, and my friends and acquaintances staying there were mostly unhappy with their experience, including the noise that the generators make during Loadshedding, the rude treatment they received from Wood, sales promises not kept, and endless rules and regulations guests have to adhere to.
My resignation from Zest came a month later. As I received no payment from Zest, I lodged the matter at the CCMA, and the documentation below is what I presented to them in August:
Constructive Dismissal Dispute : Christiane von Ulmenstein – Zest Restaurant Cape Town
I was appointed in May 2021 to handle the Marketing Communications for the brand new Zest Restaurant Cape Town in Sea Point. This included posting for the restaurant on Facebook and Instagram, to reply to reviews received for the restaurant, to spread the word about Zest, to invite friends and influencers to dine at Zest with me, to take its photographs, and to write the copy for the website, in short to act as the Brand Ambassador for the restaurant.
The restaurant quickly made a name for itself, despite it being during Lockdown, and I was a passionate ambassador for the restaurant, it filling up quickly, as I’m known as a Restaurant Reviewer in my personal capacity.
On 29 June I was asked to meet with Zest owner Chef Pavel Dimitrov, and told that he is appointing another marketing person to help build a Marketing team for when he opens a second restaurant, and changing my job description to that of going to hotels and tour operators, to gain business for them. I was not given any alternative, as the new person had already been appointed. A ‘team’ would have meant that the owner, the GM, I and the new persons should have sat down together and should have decided who would do what in Marketing the restaurant. I have no experience as a salesperson for a restaurant. I never received any Letters of Warning in doing my job, nor did I have to attend any Disciplinary Hearings!
Having no option, I wrote a proposal for how I would be going about the Selling of the restaurant. I made an appointment with Chef Pavel on 4 July for a meeting with him on 6 July at 15h00. He did not attend the meeting. He did not send an apology or explain his absence. I had to present the proposal to his wife, who does not run the restaurant, and she was going to hand the proposal to him. Still I heard nothing from him.
That evening I was removed from Google for the restaurant, one of the platforms on which I replied to reviews. I also received feedback that other persons in an associated hotel (newkings boutique hotel) had been told about my job description change, despite it being promised that it would be kept a secret, without any final decision having been made, or my new salary agreed, or I accepting the new job.
I realised that I had been lied to by the chef/owner, and that I could no longer trust him. Hence I wrote my Letter of Resignation. To this day, more than a month later, I have not heard from him nor have I received Severance pay!
My resignation letter of 7 July 2022 follows below.
Under the unbearable circumstances, I have been left with absolutely no choice but to tender my immediate resignation from Zest Restaurant.
I have served you and the restaurant as a loyal Communications consultant and Zest champion for 14 months, one month not charged for in May 2021.
The situation has become completely untenable, having been ousted from the job I was employed to do without any warning, without any complaints about the work I was delivering, nor any conversation about being replaced by someone else.
I have attached an invoice for three months severance pay, plus for the 50% discount not honoured by Patso when I dined there with a client on 28 June.
Once I receive the payment in my bank account, I will let you have all the passwords. I have managed to delink the Zest and Chef Pavel Instagram accounts from my personal accounts.
I wish you good luck for your future Zest journey.
Chris von Ulmenstein
The CCMA hearing was a farce, a settlement of R1500 offered, instead of the R17000 I claimed for the three months. I refused the Zest offer.
Throughout the last few days of my tenure at Zest, I heard the word ‘Passwords’ bandied about, even heard by staff and shared with me. As I had opened the Zest Facebook and Instagram accounts, I was the only person with the passwords. Instinct told me to not provide them until I receive my final payment, and an attempt was made to bully me by saying I should first provide them and then I would be paid. I had been lied to by Dimitrov already, and I wasn’t going to let that happen again.
In stubbornness and Marketing madness Zest decided to rather open a brand new Instagram account, starting at zero followers, now having 400 followers, whereas the official Zest account I was managing had 3000 followers.
Zest Restaurant clearly does not want the Social Media accounts, and I am deciding whether to delete them or to use them for other purposes.
The first post which Zest posted on its new Instagram account was about Dimitrov. I was impressed with his kindness and spirituality when I first worked for him, bar the last month, and I used words in writing the Zest website copy to the effect of Chef Pavel having a soul and no ego. Sadly I realised at my own experience that Chef Pavel has developed a huge ego since opening Zest, and that he has lost his soul!
A high profile restaurateur sent me the following DM after I posted this post this morning: ‘I’ve never had so many staff from one restaurant come for interviews in all my career like I have from Zest.’
Karma is a bitch, and many staff have resigned, not being able to tolerate the working conditions at Zest. Head Chef Scott Melvin has also tendered his resignation.
Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: www.whaletalesblog.com www.chrisvonulmenstein.com/blog Tel +27 082 55 11 323 Twitter:@Ulmenstein Facebook: Chris von Ulmenstein, My Cape Town Guide/Mein Kapstadt Guide, Instagram: @Chrissy_Ulmenstein @MyCapeTownGuide