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Openings and Closings

Samba Room Employees Say Restaurant Was Doomed to Fail

When Jose Martinez and his fellow chefs showed up for work on Friday morning at the Samba Room, they were shocked to find the doors closed.

Instead of walking into the kitchen to prep for service, the employees were confronted by a representative from E-Brands, corporate owner of the Samba Room, who informed the workers that their jobs were gone. The restaurant would be closing as part of a restructuring following E-Brands' bankruptcy filing on July 30.

Employees, many of whom had been with the restaurant for years, erupted into tears. "I was crying. I couldn't believe it was happening," says Martinez, who speaks little English. A line cook who worked at Samba Room since it opened ten years ago, Martinez indicated that he and other staff were appalled by the abrupt closure and the way Samba Room's staff was treated.

"They [E-Brands] didn't give us any notice at all," said another former

employee who chose to remain anonymous. "They just came in at 9 a.m.

Friday and said Thursday night's service was the last. Everyone was shocked."

But the truth about Samba Room's fate is that it was sealed long before

the July proceedings. Employees claim the restaurant was hemorrhaging

money, having operating in the red for the past two years. All the

while, they say, E-Brands -- which is based in Orlando -- ignored the

floundering restaurant, choosing to pour money into ill-fated ventures

in Las Vegas and Atlanta.

"The restaurant was failing, and they [E-Brands' corporate office] knew

it and did nothing," said the anonymous source. "The menu hadn't

changed at all in ten years. That's the main problem. They put

nothing into [Samba Room]."

Despite the warning signs, the closure came as a shock to employees who

said that, in recent months, E-Brands seemed to finally take notice. Six months ago, the restaurant hired chef Demetrio Zavala, who was in

the process of reworking the Latin-fusion concept into a more

contemporary gastropub with Latin elements. Zavala's new menu featured

smaller plates, fresher flavors, and local foods. Employees claim sales

had increased since the menu was changed.

But the effort came too late. Merely four weeks after the new menu was implemented, Samba Room was closed for good.

As for E-Brands' other restaurants, the Samba Room location in Denver

is currently closed for construction. A phone message left on the

restaurant's answering machine gives no date for when -- or if -- it will

reopen. The Orlando location is still operating.

E-Brands has

reportedly closed other restaurants in its empire, including the costly

Timpano's Tavern in the Venetian Resort Hotel Casino in Las Vegas.

E-Brands also owns Timpano's Italian Chophouse, an Italian steak-house

concept operating just a few doors down from Samba Room. Calls placed

to Samba Room's number have been rerouted there.

E-Brands' corporate offices did not return requests for comment as of press time.

But its former employees are convinced that corporate mismanagement

cost them their jobs.

"They [E-Brands] thought they had enough money to do anything, but they

really don't know how to manage their company properly," the source

said. "It's too bad, because had they reacted earlier, they might've

made money."

And saved a lot of people their jobs. 

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John Linn

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