Fly Lounge staff swatted in Aspen
December 23, 2008
ASPEN ” The Fly Lounge imploded Friday night when a half-dozen people showed up for work only to find out they had been replaced with a crew already setting up the Aspen bar for the night.
Tiffany Vaughn, who had been serving as the general manager of the nightclub at 426 E. Hyman Ave., said she met her staff at the back door of the club Friday around 8 p.m. When they entered the bar, people they had never seen before were busy wiping booze bottles and tables.
The club owner’s wife took the staffers into a back room, thanked them for their service and told them their positions were no longer available.
“We all looked at her and thought, ‘Are you crazy?'” Vaughn said. “I couldn’t believe it happened.
“We were all sitting there dumbfounded.”
Fly Lounge co-owner Britt Swan said the staff change was needed.
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“We simply made a decision that is in the best interest of the company,” he said Monday. “We just thought it might be best to take the business in a different direction, which means different people.
“I wish the timing had been different.”
The staffing changes started more than a week ago when Swan fired Fly Lounge general manager Rob Schick. Swan said a few more employees quit after that.
Formerly a cocktail waitress who has been working at the club since it opened this past spring, Vaughn said she assumed the general manager responsibilities ” hiring new staff for the season, and opening and closing the nightclub.
Vaughn said she had no idea that her job or other employees’ jobs were in jeopardy.
“It was a really bad business decision on their part,” Vaughn said of the firings. “To get shit-canned six days before Christmas, that’s really bad.”
To make matters worse, Vaughn and other employees say they haven’t been paid in two months.
Alex McAffe, a bartender who had worked at Fly Lounge since it opened, said the last pay period he received a check for was Nov. 6. Now, he finds himself unemployed through the holidays.
“It was a lousy thing to do to good people six days before Christmas,” he said, adding Colorado law requires business owners to pay their employees within 24 hours of being fired. “They didn’t give us any reason … it was just out of the blue.”
Schick declined to comment and referred questions to his attorney, Bob Hoover. Hoover said Monday that Schick also hadn’t been fully paid at the time of his termination.
Swan said he didn’t know that his employees hadn’t been paid and had received no phone calls from anyone complaining. He said that was a responsibility of Schick’s. But Vaughn said Schick had told her that Swan wasn’t providing enough money in the bank account to make payroll. She also said vendors were owed about $14,000.
Swan said that debt has been satisfied and his former employees will get their money.
“If anyone hasn’t been paid, they’re going to get paid,” he said, adding he needs a week to sort out the mess.
Natalia Kharkhal, a lead bartender at Fly Lounge, said she showed up for work late on Friday night after the firings had occurred. She was told her job was intact but she quit anyway.
“I hired some of these people, and I felt insulted by it,” she said. “There is nothing wrong with hiring and firing people, but the way they did it was wrong … in such a rude and radical way.”
Kharkhal said she and her co-workers who had been let go were part of a team that stuck together through the club’s turbulent times, which began in 2007.
“If it wasn’t for us that club would be bankrupt,” she said.
Swan said part of the staff change was to give the club a more local influence with local employees.
“We had to change the model,” he said. “It’s a new day, and we had a lot of people applying before this happened.”
Vaughn said she doesn’t buy that reasoning since she and her colleagues all live in Aspen.
“We are not out-of-towners: We all live here, and this is a tight-knit crowd,” she said.
This past weekend’s staff change contributed to the problems that have plagued the Fly Lounge since its inception.
The club was supposed to open in November 2007, but Swan ran into construction delays and fired the general contractor. A new contractor was hired, and the club was expected to open at the beginning of the year. But because of more construction problems, Swan wasn’t able to open until spring, giving him only three weeks during the ski season.
This past summer was slow, as were the offseasons. The club was open only two days a week.
But now Swan says he’s ramping back up with a new staff and opening the club six days a week, Tuesday through Sunday.
The club is designed to look like the inside of an airplane fuselage, and waitresses are dressed as flight attendants. Bottle service at VIP tables inside the club starts at $600.