A BUSINESS has unexpectedly closed at a flagship food and leisure development amid allegations of poor working practices and claims that staff have been left without pay for several weeks.

The owner of the NYC Bar and Grill, situated at Darlington’s Feethams centre, reportedly ordered his team to shut up shop last Friday after The Northern Echo began investigating working practices at the restaurant.

The sudden closure comes in the wake of allegations made by former employees relating to pay and conditions at the restaurant, which was opened in September and was one of a chain operated by Doncaster-based businessman Lee Edwards.

Prior to the burger bar closing its doors, a number of ex-workers – since joined by some who worked up until Friday – contacted The Northern Echo to claim they had not been paid for several weeks of work.

One person said they were now homeless due to missing out on hundreds of pounds and being subsequently unable to afford their rent while others were plunged into debt and are now struggling to find work.

The restaurant's closure was initially announced to staff as a temporary, week-long measure in light of imminent negative press.

However, the team were told by text message on Monday that the business was closed, with a spokeswoman for Feethams confirming to the Echo that they had been told it was for sale.

Ex-supervisors claimed to have seen unpaid bills to the development owners that suggested rent had never been paid, while large invoices from utility firms and suppliers were also allegedly outstanding.

Questions concerning allegations made by nine former workers have been passed to Mr Edwards, while the Echo has repeatedly attempted to contact him for comment without success.

A number of accusations have been levelled at Mr Edwards about the running of his business, which is said to have been staffed almost entirely by people aged between 16 and 25, some of whom claim they were exploited.

Former employees told the Echo there was little training offered to the young team, most of whom were inexperienced in the restaurant trade yet occupied supervisory positions in the kitchen and at front of house, largely without written contracts and on minimum wage.

Staff claim to have been left exhausted by consistently working beyond their stipulated hours, often until the early hours of the morning, with some saying they were not be paid past 10.30pm on a weeknight, regardless of how long it took them to close after end of service at 10pm.

In what has been referred to by two separate individuals as “like modern day slavery”, some workers apparently went completely unpaid for several weeks, amid excuses from their management.

He is said to have changed the pay-day in order to discourage staff from drinking out of work, claims that have been echoed at a branch in Hull, which made the press after staff there also claimed to have gone six weeks without pay.

Those who left recently, and those now without work as a result of the business’ closure, are currently fighting for their missing wages, with some turning to third parties including ACAS – the Government’s Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service - in the hope of being paid.

Echoing the sentiments of his former colleagues, one supervisor said: “People worked really hard and for a lot of them, it was full-time work.

“I think he bit off more than he could chew and we saw standards slipping, we couldn’t order food because we were blacklisted and the bills were piling up.

“It was so worrying for us to realise we had no jobs, we’re owed at least six weeks’ wages.

“I’m in shock, I shouldn’t have to be begging cap in hand for my wages and he has wrecked a lot of lives.

“He has taken advantage of young people and he has exploited us, he needs to be stopped from going into business ever again.”