Napanee’s Harvey’s/Swiss Chalet wins legal right to re-open

Kingston's town crier Chris Whyman was on hand to proclaim Napanee's Harvey's and Swiss Chat is officially re-open following a four month legal battle. Photo by Adam Prudhomme.

Adam Prudhomme

When Harvey’s and Swiss Chalet franchisees Morgan and Mishelle Rayer won the legal right to re-open their Napanee location, they wanted to announce it in style.

They did so by enlisting the booming voice of Kingston’s town crier Chris Whyman, who attended the restaurant on Wednesday afternoon to proclaim the news.

The re-opening is the latest turn in a winding legal battle between the local franchisees and the parent company Recipe Unlimited Corporation, one of Canada’s largest restaurant companies who owns Harvey’s and Swiss Chalet, among several others. At the heart of the matter is a legal dispute by the franchisee couple who refused to pay rent after having to cover out of pocket costs for upkeep of the building at 1 Richmond Blvd, including replacing an HVAC unit on top of the building. The Rayers maintain they were misled about the age of the unit when they entered the lease.

That matter is still pending in the court system. The dispute was escalated late last year when the franchisees showed up to find they had been locked out of their business.

Napanee Harvey’s/Swiss Chalet employees Vanessa Gariepy, Aiden, Kayla Thrift and Cody Foly held signs in January calling for their jobs back after the restaurant was seized by parent company Recipe Unlimited amid a contract dispute with the franchisees. Photo by Adam Prudhomme

“Part of (Recipe’s) claims was that we we were poorly managing the restaurant and they had these internal audits that they were running that’s claimed that we were poorly running the restaurant,” said Mishelle. “On Dec. 13, 2023, they did lock us out and they locked out 20 some employees as well, with no notice or anything.”

Mishelle says the numbers don’t back out Recipe’s claims, as they’ve often been among the upper tier of franchises in terms of cleanliness, customer service and employee retention.

Following the lock out the Rayers took the case to court, going all the way to the Ontario Superior Court, where Justice William LeMay granted an appeal that allows the Rayers to return to their business, for now. The matter will be heard in full in Napanee in August. The main issue between the franchisees and the parent company and landlord of their building will go to trial sometime in 2025.

For now however, burgers and quarter-white dinners are back in Napanee. The Rayers say it hasn’t been smooth sailing since getting the keys back however.

“We were shocked at the way this place was pillaged,” said Mishelle. “Somebody took squeeze bottles for ketchup, like 50 of them. Somebody took plastic insert containers for toppings in the garnish counter. Somebody took 50 trays. Somebody took our open sign. Somebody took our gift card holder. The place looked like it had been picked through. All of the food in the fridge that the lawyer claimed that they had disposed of, when in fact we found out directly from the team in Swiss Chalet in Belleville that all of our Swiss Chalet product went to them, for free. They sold that product, they profited off that product but Recipe won’t replace it.”

They also say the parent company did nothing to appease customers who were caught in the middle who had placed orders for the holiday season but were ignored by Recipe while the store was locked up.

“They’re doing everything to hurt our local market,” said Morgan, who has operated the store with Mishelle since 2013. “They’re doing everything they can to put our names through the mud to make us look bad in the eyes of everyone in this local area and it’s not fair. They’re undoing 10 years of hard work.”

Of the 26 employees who were suddenly out of a job right before the holiday season, 24 have returned to the restaurant.

An email to Recipe Unlimited asking for comment was not answered.

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