Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier File Photo
New ownership, a shift in management styles and coronavirus struggles are said to be contributing factors to layoffs for all but two Le Boulanger employees at the Los Altos restaurant.
A turnover in ownership at Le Boulanger in Los Altos has resulted in layoffs for all but two employees.
After four decades of managing the Le Boulanger brand, owner Dan Brunello was set to hand off the wholesale and retail operations to Posh Bakery’s Jeff Ottoveggio in January.
Brunello told the Town Crier at the time his family would maintain the catering operations of Le Boulanger as Ottoveggio managed the nine cafes across the Bay Area. Athens Baking Co., a Fresno-based enterprise, would handle production.
After Le Boulanger’s Sunnyvale headquarters closed last month, Brunello pledged to keep as many employees as possible. Approximately 100 people were to be laid off, according to a notice filed with the state’s Employment Development Division office.
Last month, as the shelter-in-place orders took effect, Brunello allegedly assured Denise Dirby, among other employees at their time of dismissal, that Ottoveggio had their contact information and would be calling about a potential rehire. Dirby, an 11-year employee, didn’t hear back.
“I got a lot of customers calling me, asking where I am and why I’m not there,” Dirby told the Town Crier. “They said we were laid off, but there was no explanation. It’s really kind of sad.”
A former 13-year employee, who preferred to remain anonymous, said she found it suspicious that the new owner was supposed to visit in early March, but never showed. Instead, she said, Ottoveggio’s son, Jeremy, took over as general manager and retrained a sandwich area employee and a manager leftover from the layoffs, and hired new staff.
“No one was fired, and we only hired the people we need right now,” the younger Ottoveggio told the Town Crier April 22.
Laid off-employees said they had to file applications as new hires. One former worker acknowledged layoffs were partially due to COVID-19 and Le Boulanger’s modified operations of curbside pickup and delivery, but the prevailing reasons seemed to be new ownership and a shift in management styles.
The Los Altos Le Boulanger location was the last to be switched, last month, to the new ownership, the former worker said, but she saw warning signs when layoffs occurred at the bakery’s Mathilda Avenue location in Sunnvyale.
“I knew right then something was going on,” she said. “We were naive to think they were going to take care of us.”
In a statement provided to the Town Crier Thursday, Jeff Ottoveggio said he was unaware when he took over that Brunello had closed the Los Altos location on his last day.
“Shelter-in-place orders were in effect, many retail stores were shuttered, but our priority was to keep the store open,” Ottoveggio said. “Only to-go business was allowed, business hours were shortened, so based on sales, we fortunately had enough business to offer employment to two of Dan Brunello's former employees. Even so, there’s been only enough business to provide each employee with only part-time employment.”
Ottoveggio said he could not rehire everyone Brunello laid off because of a decline in sales.
“We are looking forward to returning to safer times, to contributing to this community and to offer full-time jobs,” he said.
Ottoveggio also claims Brunello sold the Sunnyvale headquarters where the signature Le Boulanger bread was baked despite a condition of the purchase centering on Le Boulanger wholesale operations continuing to supply locations with bread.
As a result, bakery equipment is being installed in stores so that bread and pastries can be baked in-house.
Brunello declined to comment on the situation.
For the Town Crier’s previous coverage on the sale of Le Boulanger’s retail and wholesale divisions, click here.