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Typhoon! closes all its restaurants

by: Jaime Valdez The Beaverton location of Typhoon!, located at The Round, was one of five to close its doors for good Saturday night.

Tigard-based Thai restaurant chain Typhoon! closed its doors to its remaining five locations for good Saturday, Feb. 4.

Typhoon! restaurants were located in Portland, Beaverton, Gresham, Bend and Redmond, Wash., as well as a catering business it operated out of its headquarters on Durham Road in Tigard.

While the company had come under fire for alleged abuses to its Thai workers in recent years, company officials said that the closure stemmed from the death of Co-Founder Steve Kline, who died of a heart attack in August, and left sole responsibility for the restaurant to his wife and co-owner Bo Kline.

'This had nothing to do with (the BOLI investigation),' said Angie Galimanis, a spokeswoman for the company. 'The loss of Steve was devastating to (Bo) and she didn't feel that she could continue on without him.'

Bo Kline said in a statement released Sunday that running the company was not something she could do alone.

'Without his energy, support and commitment, operating Typhoon! has required much more attention than I am able to give and has begun to take a toll on my health,' she said in a statement.

Discrimination charges

The company has faced scrutiny over the last few years after former chefs claimed Typhoon!'s owners abused an international work visa program to bring workers from Thailand to cook in the restaurants.

In December, the company was charged with unlawful labor practices by the state Bureau of Labor and Industries, saying that Typhoon! discriminated against Thai employees.

BOLI investigators claimed Typhoon's Thai workers were paid less, worked longer hours and signed unfavorable contract terms that were not faced by non-Thai workers.

BOLI, charged with enforcing civil rights laws, said it intended to seek $250,000 for each Thai employee subjected to unlawful employment practices.

In July, the company was cleared of claims it was involved in human trafficking charges in a 2008 lawsuit involving a former cook, but Typhoon! was found to have discriminated based on the chef's Thai origins and would have to pay her $268,000 workers compensation claim and unpaid overtime.

The restaurant chain closed two of its locations last year citing poor business, including its flagship location in Northwest Portland.

The company fought the BOLI allegations, calling them 'a witch hunt,' and called for an investigation against state Labor Commissioner Brad Avakain.

The company - which began with a single Northwest Portland restaurant in 1995 - employs about 200 people at its Oregon and Washington locations, many recruited directly from Thailand.

'We realize that our restaurant closures will present a hardship to our many loyal employees,' continued Kline. 'We are prepared to fulfill all of our contractual agreements with our staff, both U.S. and Thai nationals.'

The company's closure will likely have little impact on the state's case against it, said BLOI spokesman Bob Estabrook.

'We have charges against the restaurant and against Bo Kline the owner,' Estabrook said. 'The closure of business definitely doesn't mean the case is settled. Those workers haven't been made whole.'

Estabrook said that he was saddened to hear of the restaurant chain's decision to close, saying that was never the intention of BOLI's investigation.

'Hearing that a business is closed isn't good for anybody,' he said. 'The goal here is to have a healthy, competitive business in compliance with Oregon's compensation laws. We'd much rather see the business successful. If they choose to close, that is unfortunate, but that doesn't alter the status of the situation.'

The case is set to be prosecuted before a judge on May 15.

Any final order in the case will be issued by BOLI Deputy Commissioner Doug McKean.



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