Posted on 15 April 2015.
by Julie Hall
[Updated 3:15 p.m., 7:48 a.m. April 15, 2015]
Bainbridge Island mainstay Bainbridge Bakers in Winslow Green has made a public plea for help—specifically $100,000 through a gofundme campaign.
One of Bainbridge Bakers front staff managers, Ben Goldsmith said he started the gofundme page with approval from the company’s current owner, Mike Loudon. The campaign was launched Monday, April 13, and as of this morning nearly $7,000 had been donated. In addition to donations, the hefty funding request has elicited a stream of questions and heated debate.
Tuesday morning Inside Bainbridge called and messaged Loudon to find out why the money is needed and specifically how it will be used, but we did not receive a response. When we called Goldsmith, he said he couldn’t talk and would not commit to answering questions about the campaign. We heard Loudon speaking in the background. Goldsmith later sent a message apologizing for being “short” and said he would answer written questions.
According to Goldsmith, he launched the gofundme campaign very quickly “as a way to make actual money that the employees can see, instead of waiting for some investor they’ll probably never meet. If everyone receives their full paycheck, it’s my belief that with the restructuring of the business that’s already in effect, our staff will keep on keeping on. It’s a drastic, wacky, unconventional idea, but it’s fast, and it harnesses the very real power of this community.”
Goldsmith further stated, “Day to day, Bainbridge Bakers is making money. It’s a profitable business, and it has a 29-year track record to prove it. What we’re dealing with now is a giant hole—payroll is extremely stressed, and yes, we’ve been seriously behind on payment. Our employees are some of the most hard-working, dedicated people I’ve ever met, and their patience and understanding has [sic] pushed us a long way. But, they/we are at the end of their/our rope.”
Goldsmith is referring to the fact that Bainbridge Bakers employees have not seen consistent paychecks for quite some time. According to Loudon’s former bookkeeper and administrative assistant Karen Kimzey, the majority of employees have not been paid their full wages for two months, since February 15. Kimzey quit in early April after not receiving a paycheck in six weeks. She said that Loudon gave her two small checks that were nowhere near what she had earned.
“I’m a huge supporter of shop Bainbridge Island. I loved working there. I loved the kids and product and the events. . . . I seriously believed I would be paid,” said Kimzey. “Mike had me hypnotized. We all were like that, and then slowly people began to quit. It wasn’t so hard for me because I’m married, but almost all of these people are single. . . . I tried to have faith in him. He can be sweet and funny, but there was a lot of manipulation going on. It’s really hard; he had me snowed.”
Kimzey emphasized her concerns about the gofundme campaign. “There are a lot of kind-hearted people out there. The Bakery is an institution. These people throwing their money at this really should do their homework. There is no guarantee that we’ll see a penny of it,” Kimzey said. She added that she could talk “for hours” about the company’s business practices but is bound professionally not to disclose further details.
“I think the State will get involved,” she noted.
Paul Sisely, 52, echoed Kimzey’s sentiments. He was hired in February to create a wine bar at the company’s spinoff location in the Island Gateway complex, which has since closed. Loudon shuttered the establishment in late March, leaving a sign on the door saying it was closing temporarily to expand into “a full-service restaurant, with beer, wine, and spirits.”
Sisely said the 10-month-old Gateway business was losing money each month, and Loudon was not paying his employees at either location. He advised Loudon to shut down at Gateway and “get back to basics.” Sisely was shocked when he learned of Loudon’s plan to expand the second location. “It was hemorrhaging financially. It was so hurtful to employees to see the sign about expanding while not being paid,” he said.
When the Gateway location’s wine bar plans were postponed, Sisely took over as head chef of the Winslow Green location. He said he worked over full-time hours for six weeks and was never given a paycheck—only $200 “for gas money” that he believed was paid under the table. “[Loudon] kept claiming he would pay but never made payroll. He said different things every day. . . . One minute he’s selling the bakery, the next he’s expanding at Gateway,” said Sisely, who quit on Sunday.
“[Loudon] gives people grandiose titles and makes big promises,” said Sisely. “He hires young kids. A lot of people are afraid to say anything. People love the guy.” Sisely described two of Loudon’s hires that particularly bothered him. One involved Loudon promising a big job to an older woman in Phoenix, who uprooted and relocated to Bainbridge only to find she was not getting paid. IB spoke with her, but she declined to comment for this article. The other case Sisely cited was a young BHS graduate who he said Loudon lured back from Los Angeles for a big title and promises of advancement with the agreement of no pay for six months. He said she is Goldsmith’s girlfriend.
“I think Mike exhibits classic behaviors of a sociopath. He’ll tell you anything you want to hear and wants everybody to love him. But if you cross him you’re the worst person on Earth. If you leave, he bad-mouthes you to everyone,” Sisely said. “A lot of people are concerned about being blacklisted in the Bainbridge Island community. He has to be stopped.”
Bainbridge Bakers Operations Manager Dan Bennett quit this week, citing similar reasons. He said he hadn’t been paid for three months and was only given a few small checks without IRS pay stub withholdings, the same types of handouts described by Kimzey and Sisely. Bennett said after eight years in the Navy it looked like his first good job opportunity, and he held on because Mike kept promising payment.
Bennett said he witnessed Loudon removing and pocketing large bills from the till without recording them. He said what troubled him the most was that most employees were under 21 and vulnerable to Loudon’s “intimidation.” He said workers were begging to be paid, and Loudon would alternately “explode violently” or “play the money-strapped victim.”
A two-time former Bainbridge Bakers employee spoke to IB anonymously. She said during her first stint at the bakery as an 18-year-old graduate from Bainbridge High School some 10 years ago, paychecks were always late and things were tense at the bakery because Loudon and his now-former wife, Ellen, were having marital problems and fighting in front of the staff. She noted that she could deal with late pay at the time because she was living at home.
Anonymous returned to Bainbridge Bakers in 2012. By then she had a family of her own and relied on the money. She described her job there at that time as a “horrible experience,” citing numerous problems. She said Loudon bullied female workers and created a “boys club” with young male workers. She said she saw paperwork showing numerous outstanding accounts with vendors, indicating that even then the Bakery’s finances were “out of control.” And she said when she questioned Loudon after a business-major coworker pointed out a discrepancy between the tip jar and dispensations from Loudon after he took over the tips accounting, he “was livid and yelled” at her.
Anonymous further stated that a coworker at the time believed that Loudon was going into the computer system and altering employees’ work hours to decrease their logged time. She said another coworker corroborated the belief after she began tracking her time cards and found a discrepancy between them and the hours she was compensated for in her paychecks. “I grew up on the Island and loved the bakery. He and Ellen bought the bakery [in 2005], and I think they got in over their heads,” said Anonymous. “Please don’t give money to this fundraiser. . . . He’s had a lot of investors bail him out. Mike is an actor, and if you don’t fall for it he bullies. I fear what he will do next,” she added.
In an email distributed to Bainbridge Bakers staff dated a month ago, on March 15, 2015, Loudon stated, “I promise you that even in the event of an unplanned catastrophe I would immediately dispose of assets so that you are compensated for all your hard work and for your patience.” When IB asked Goldsmith what assets have been sold to compensate workers, he said that promise had not been made.
In the same email Loudon referred to employee theft that occurred between October and January. Goldsmith told IB that the thefts occurred between September and November. He said the amount taken was estimated at $15,000 and that the theft required the company to pay an additional $5,000 in insurance, legal fees, and new security measures. A Bainbridge Island police report shows that $159 was taken from the company’s cash drawer on January 21. When we contacted the BIPD, they were not aware of additional theft reports from Bainbridge Bakers but said they would look into the matter further for confirmation. In the January 21 police report, Loudon stated that most of the employees had keys to the building. Anonymous disputed that statement, saying only Loudon and the night cooks had keys.
Both Sisely and Bennett have filed complaints about Loudon with the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I). IB submitted a public records request regarding complaints about Bainbridge Bakers, information that L&I said it will not make available until May 22. Kimzey said she believes there have been at least seven complaints filed.
Review of Bainbridge Bakers accounts with L&I shows it is operating under two names. Bainbridge Bakery Company Inc. is listed as being owned by someone who asked not to be named in this article for fear of association with Mike Loudon and shows no employees for last quarter. Bainbridge Bakers Inc. lists as its owner Ellen Loudon and shows 21-30 workers last quarter. Goldsmith reported that the company had 60 workers at its highest employment level. Kimzey said it was 53 until a recent drop to about 44 employees.
When IB contacted Ellen Loudon for comment she said she is not the company’s owner and has not been for some years.
Photo by Sarah Lane.