Fish Monger Foes Hassle Jack the Horse Patrons


As the holiday weekend began in Brooklyn Heights Thursday night, protesters pounced on our friendly neighborhood gastropub Jack the Horse voicing their opposition to the eatery’s fish monger, Wild Edibles. According to eyewitness reports, the ragtag crew of 5 -6 attempted to stop customers from entering JtH while shouting “their fish is crazy!”

Story updated with additional information.


The group handed out fliers to customers and passersby and were most likely affiliated with an activist organization called Brandworkers.

Jack the Horse owner/chef Tim Oltmans tells BHB’s Sarah Portlock, “Two weeks ago they, the protest group, called me and tried to get me to make a commitment but I was in the kitchen trying to get stuff done and I couldn’t talk to them so they tried a different tactic [by protesting Thursday].”

Post demonstration, the overwhelming sentiment inside JtH was that the protesters didn’t seem very concerned about the workers inside the restaurant earning a living and whose business they were disrupting.

Like many restaurants in New York City, Jack the Horse buys its seafood from Manhattan based Wild Edibles. In 2007, the company was sued by 16 employees from its Queens warehouse who claim that the company owed them overtime pay and wouldn’t let them unionize. The former Wild Edibles workers, who are also members of the advocacy group Brandworkers International and the union Industrial Workers of the World have attempted to “persuade” restaurateurs to stop buying from the company by staging protests in front of their businesses. In July 2008, Wild Edibles filed for bankruptcy protection. At that time Crain’s reported that the distributor had lost 33 accounts due to the labor dispute. Eater has covered this “drama” extensively.

However, according to documents obtained by BHB, a settlement was reached in October 2008 with Wild Edibles agreeing to compensate the workers . Reportedly, payments are being made this week. Therefore, the motivation for Thursday’s action in Brooklyn Heights is unclear. Brandworkers tells us that agreement was never fully executed, hence their continued demonstrations. [Review documents here for more info: Page One Page Two Page Three Page Four]

Wild Edibles owner Richard Martin says that none of the plaintiffs in the case appear to have been part of Thursday’s protest. He adds, “If they have accepted the deal and I’m just a little confused why the protests. Last week there was a settlement, lawyers have agreed on it, now we’re just drawing up the contracts and I’m looking forward to moving on with my life.” [Updated 4pm 7/7/09]

Brandworkers Executive Director Daniel Gross claims the situation is not that clear cut. “It’s accurate to say that we can be cautiously optimistic that we’re on the right track but there’s absolutely no agreement and there won’t be an end to the dispute until there’s an agreement, which is agreed upon by all sides and is executed as signed.”

As for the Brooklyn Heights protest he says, “It’s always our goal to reach out to restaurants and create a dialogue and the way it happens is we reach out and set up a meeting with the workers, along with folks from Brandworkers and have a meeting and there’s so much evidence of wrong doing and retaliation by Wild Edibles, especially when you hear it from the workers themselves, it’s a very compelling story. We’re able to move forward in a positive way. In the case of Jack the Horse Tavern we were hoping to move forward in a positive way, and then we still hope that. It’s just at this point we haven’t received indication yet that Jack the Horse Tavern wants to show concern for the conditions along the supply chain.”

He also disputes eyewitness reports that protesters were blocking the restaurant’s entrance. “No one was stopped at the door. There was no call of a boycott. We’ve been doing this for two years and it’s always the same message and the same approach. No one was blocking the door. Just strictly educational about the fish product. The community members we spoke to were of the mindset that a restaurant should be concerned about working conditions along its supply chain.” [Updated 7/7/09 4:30pm]

We’ve obtained a sample of an email reportedly sent by Gross to area restaurateurs as well as a series of responses sent out by Wild Edibles which provide some insight into the contentious conflict: [Page One Page Two Page Three]



And does the gentleman in this video look familiar? He should because he’s one of the folks who were part of the JtH protest on Thursday. This YouTube video shot last year by nextleftnotes should give you an idea of the approach, tone and attitude of the Wild Edibles opponent group. [Updated 7/7/09 4:35pm]

Given its date and location, do you think that this demonstration was an effective way for Brandworkers to gain support?

Oltmans tells us that the protest didn’t hurt business at all adding, “After half an hour it started raining and they all ran away.”

BHB’s Sarah Portlock is investigating and we’ll update you soon.

[Disclosure: Homer Fink has been a member of trade union American Federation of Radio and Television Artists (AFTRA) since 1996.]

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  • Sam

    This makes me want to go to Jack the Horse tonight and order the smoked trout salad – it’s the best.

  • ABC

    your question is, Given its date and location, do you think that this demonstration was an effective way for Brandworkers to gain support?

    Well, sure. Protests and boycotts have often been an effective way to gain support and I know they’ve persuaded several prominent restaurants (Union Sq, Kittichai, China Grill, One if by land…, Keith McNally’s group) to look buy their fish elsewhere.

    I think one nice gesture would have been for Tim to call the people back and hear them out. I understand he was busy at the time of the call, but that was 2 weeks ago.

  • heightsdiho

    “Their fish is crazy” is a crazy statement – or at the very least, bizarre. Bring on the insane sea-life! And Sam, I agree w/ you on that trout salad – very tasty!

  • yo

    these people are idiots…unions have long outlived their usefulness in this country…instead of trying to work with owners to reach an amicable middle ground (if it exists), these spineless, lazy morons show up to “protest” businesses, often misrepresenting the facts while doing so. unfortunately, suing for defamation or libel is not cost-effective for just about any small business, so these worms get away with it time after time…

    I’m not for or against wild edibles as I don’t know much about their particular situation, but that doesn’t make union intimidation tactics any less despicable…

  • yo

    and look at them…would you take any of the people in the pictures seriously??? talk about a group of bored trust fund babies…

  • AEB

    Was the protest useful? Well, here it is, featured in a BH post–and here we are reading about it and commenting.

    So their message–whether you like it or not–is out. Or further out then it was before their demonstration.

  • Bart

    Jack the Horse is a fine establishment. It serves good food and pays it taxes. It is a great restaurant in our neighborhood. The only thing these people did is make me want to go to JtH to show my support. Honestly people, waste your lives somewhere else!

  • BklynJace

    Just became a huge fan of Wild Edibles.

  • ABC

    Can’t say I’m a huge fan of Wild Edibles. They’ve admitted to not paying workers earned pay. They were caught by the Times as selling farmed salmon as “wild salmon”. They started a new company to get around growing boycott. There are a lot of fish guys in the NY. I wouldn’t choose to use these guys.

  • Matt

    I’ve never been to JtH, but am looking forward to going…


    …and ordering seafood every time.

  • BrooklynFoodie

    Daniel Gross is a trustfund scumbag himself. He recruits these people because everyone wants to have a cause. Wild Edibles has lost countless customers because of these people who (a) really aren’t aware of what the implications of unionizing would do and (b) aren’t thinking about the Wild Edibles workers who are against unionizing and are suffering as a result.

    “ABC” – Sustainable fish is better for the environment and more companies are moving to sustainable these days. Sorry you can’t always get your wild salmon when the populations are dwindling.

    I’ve been following this story and if you’ve been reading about it for the past few years, it’s clear that Wild Edibles is trying to maintain an honest business while Daniel Gross and the Brandworkers are throwing out pointless attacks in the name of “workers rights” – whose “rights” are they protecting?

  • AEB

    “Trustfund scumbag”? No class antipathy there! Would you say, “working-class scumbag”?

    And indeed–as a point of information–whose rights ARE Brandworkers attempting to protect?

    I take no sides–I haven’t sufficient information. But history is, as they say, on the side of those who picket.

    Perhaps this is a tempest in a teapot. But the reflexive hostility toward the (perhaps too) idealistic young on the part of some posters is worth noting.

  • ABC

    “BrooklynFoodie” – I’m not telling you what to eat. Wild Edibles took farmed salmon and packaged and sold and charged for wild salmon (routinely 3x the price). I’m not talking about the fish, I’m talking about cheating people. Cheating workers, cheating customers. They dont have a great record.

  • Jose Uribe

    Scumbag may have been a tad strong. But I don’t think one can totally ignore how annoying it is to be preached to by self righteous recent college grads who don’t have to work for a living. I mean, I know some of the folks from JTH and they work hard to operate a good business. Most of JTH’s patrons also work hard for the privilege to live in this neighborhood. I don’t think it is too much to ask these “protesters” (none of whom look like they ever worked in a wharehouse) to behave in a more mature and respectful manner. The same goes for all the bearded teva wearing trust fund kids who harass people on Montague St. on behalf of Greenpeace, ACLU etc . . .

  • ABC

    Also, regarding “these people who really aren’t aware of what the implications of unionizing would do”, I’m always suspect when people think they know what’s best in other peoples’ interests. I know they wanted to get paid the overtime they worked. Wild Edibles finally agreed — when sued — that okay, I guess we should do that.

    Meanwhile, to sign off on a high note, I recently asked a Trader Joe’s employee if they got health insurance. Turns out TJs gives all full-time employees full health benefits and defines “full-time” generously (21 hours or more.. something like that)

  • Darrem

    “these people are idiots…unions have long outlived their usefulness in this country…instead of trying to work with owners to reach an amicable middle ground . . . “

    Possibly the most asinine comment I’ve read on the internet in a long time.

  • hoppy

    I can never take seriously anyone wearing a Jaegermeister T-shirt.

  • chef13

    I have been using wild edibles for 3 years with no problems. Can’t complain here!

  • Steve

    Sorry bout that. I continue: will find that Gross is a wannabee and a pawn in an agenda that has nothing to do with workers rights. I have been following this closely for 3 years now and I say enough is enough! Brandworkers and Gross take full advantage of a playing field tilted unfairly in their direction and do not have to worry about being accountable to the truth. Along the way Martin has suffered irreparable damage in the press by idiots (NY Mag Bloggers, Crain’s, etc.) that are complete spineless fools ore crooks like Gross. Karma baby!! It all comes around in the end!

  • BrooklynFoodie

    Thank you, Steve.

    Do you guys know Daniel Gross?! The dude went to Harvard and Cornell and writes a blog called “Moneyblog”. Come on, now. If you can’t figure out his interests from that, you’re blind. He’s not out to help anyone – he’s out to get his cut.

    “Cheating workers, cheating customers”? – If you’re referring to the farmed/wild salmon debate, you’ve gotta get a new cause in life. There are bigger issues than that!

  • BklynJace

    Whoa. You’re talking about two very different Daniel Grosses here. The financial journalist and the activist share a name, nothing else.

  • josh

    for one, unions are part of what made this country great, and deregulation and union busting starting in the 80’s with bozo reagan led to the financial crisis this country is in now.

    for two, farmed raised salmon pollute the water they’re in causing algae blooms which in turn kill many of the fish in the area. farm raised salmon also are believed to contain high levels of carcinogens.

    i like JtH too, but they can do a better job of choosing their vendors.

  • Jazz

    This is the lamest thing to protest over ever. Where you salmon is raised really, seriously does not amount to a hill of beans. As for the workers at Wild Edibles I’m sure they can find a job lifting, packing and whining practically anywhere. It’s not like they need language skills, education or experience. Come on people!

  • my2cents

    It is one thing to protest in front of a restaurant that is itself doing something bad (like China Grill was), but to protest in front of a restaurant whose supplier is doing something wrong is really unfair to that restaurant. They should be using their time to focus on pressuring and embarassing the people they have a grievance with, not small business owners. It is ultimately up to Tim if he is happy with his vendor, and they could have used diplomacy, tact and persuasion privately to convince him to drop Wild Edibles. Instead Tim is probably like f-you! I’ll keep buying from them, you jerks! No brains in that camp. They are alienating the restaurant owners who could actually bring pressure on Wild Edibles by switching suppliers. Talk about self defeating. But hey protesting is a lot easier than persuading.

  • Stephanie Basile

    Communication between Brandworkers and Tim Oltmans:

    We initially sent Mr. Oltmans a letter on August 15 informing him of Wild Edible’s labor violations and requesting that he please contact us. He failed to contact us. My colleague Daniel called him, with no resolution.

    Months later, Mr. Oltmans continues to knowingly buy seafood from a labor law violator.

    On Monday, June 29, I called Jack the Horse and spoke to Mr. Oltmans. He said he is already aware of the labor dispute and is not interested in having a dialogue about this issue.

    During this conversation, I offered to show Mr. Oltmans legal documents detailing Wild Edibles’ labor violations. He refused. I offered to set up a meeting for him to meet with the workers. He refused. I asked if he could perhaps get back to me later in the week. He refused.

    After making these attempts to initiate dialogue, we feel it is appropriate to inform Jack the Horse’s customers of the labor violations of Wild Edibles.

  • my2cents

    To summarize your comment, you sent him a letter on August 15th, and you called him on June 29th. All these refusals you point out are from ONE phone call, so don’t represent them as separate “attempts.”
    That is real persistence there Stephanie. And less than 10 days after that single phone call you picket his restaurant. Wow. You guys really tried to get him to come around before alienating him.
    We should send you to the middle east as special envoy given all your diplomatic skill.

  • The Where

    Maybe he’s just not that into you. Shave your armpits. Stay out of our neighorhood.

  • nabeguy

    Gee, Where, you’re welcome wagon reeks of dead fish!

  • The Where

    Mr. Guy these cretins are not protesters they are leeches who suck the blood of the worker under the guise of advocacy. I suggest they pool their ample trustfunds and open their own fish monger . One thing is for sure the smell of tuna will not repel them except perhaps for the males.

  • my2cents

    Those jerks were out again last night. I saw them accosting Tim outside. He was talking to them but seemed rather exasperated.