More Staff Turmoil at Whip In

Following layoffs, some staff quit in protest

A number of Whip In employees either quit or were let go on Tuesday, according to multiple former employees who spoke with the Chronicle Wednesday night.

Photo by John Anderson

Leigh von Runnen, who has worked as a bartender at the beloved South Austin bar/restaurant/convenience store for three and a half years, said she and several other employees quit after finding out mid-shift that owner Zahir Prasla had fired Gabe Terrazas, a respected manager who has been with the business for more than a decade.

“I broke down,” she said. “I couldn’t help customers because I was so upset. Which turned into me quitting.”

In addition to the workers who left that day, von Runnen said another handful plan to leave in the coming weeks. She estimated that “80 percent of the front-of-house staff” is quitting.

The Chronicle reported in September on a number of employees who either left or were fired after Prasla – who also owns Quickie Pickie – bought the business from its founder and longtime owner, Amrit Topiwala. Former Whip In managers and employees described changes that they said would change the bar for the worse, while a former Quickie Pickie manager described Prasla as an erratic, abusive boss.

At the time, Terrazas defended the new ownership and management, describing it as more competent and numbers-focused than its predecessors. He acknowledged having his pay cut but said he expected it to go up again.

Martine Pèlegrin, the general manager who vociferously defended Prasla against criticisms from former employees, was also let go several weeks ago, former employees said. In a text message, Pèlegrin declined to comment.

Also defending management in September was von Runnen, who left a comment in response to the article online, saying she was “appalled by the cattiness of what has been said” about the business’ direction. On Wednesday, she said she was “ticked” by seeing former co-workers dis the business at the time but that now she understands “why they wanted to reach out” to the media.

A number of former employees who declined to speak to the Chronicle on-the-record for the last article were willing to talk now.

Drew Schlegel, who ended a three-year stint as a Whip In bartender in April, said he didn’t want to speak openly at the time about the negative changes he had witnessed at the business out of loyalty to Terrazas.

“Some of [the employees] are freaking out because they’re jobless, but they felt so strongly about leaving because of what happened to Gabe and Courtney [Britt],” he said. Britt, Whip In's beer buyer, was part of the recent terminations, along with Terrazas.

Lauren Laing, who worked at Whip In and Quickie Pickie, also shared a letter that she sent to the Texas Workforce Commission in 2014 contesting Prasla’s claim that a former manager, Emily Lowe, was not owed unemployment benefits because she quit. Laing and Lowe claimed he fired both of them and described Prasla as emotionally unstable and psychologically abusive. The commission sided with Prasla and denied Lowe unemployment benefits. (In an ironic twist, Pèlegrin was able to secure unemployment benefits after quitting Quickie Pickie several years ago because she was able to prove that Prasla was not consistently paying her on time. That was before he hired her again to manage Whip In.)

In an email, Prasla contested the term “firing” and said the employees were let go for purely budgetary reasons.

“Construction is [going] on and business revenue is down,” he said. He did not respond to questions about workers quitting.

Terrazas also spoke with the Chronicle on Wednesday night, but declined to comment on his termination, calling it “water under the bridge.” Instead, he wanted to talk about his dissatisfaction with the previous article about his former employer, which he called “one-sided” and “an abomination.”

“I led a good team, and I stick by that. I was a good boss,” he said. “But in terms of anybody who was above me, and what just happened, you’re not going to get any of that out of me.”

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