EWING — The owners of a restaurant are apologizing and promising to donate more than $1,000 after being criticized for threatening to fire an employee who asked for a day off to attend the funeral of a College of New Jersey student killed in a crash this weekend.

Screenshots of a text conversation between a Cafe 72 owner and the employee — who attended TCNJ with Michael Sot, 20, the fatal victim of the suspected DWI crash that left other students critically injured — were posted Wednesday on a closed Ewing community Facebook group.

The worker was told that she would be "let go" if she took time off this weekend.

Comments on the post blasted the restaurant management for how the college student was treated.

Cafe 72 responded on its website, explaining that the employee was not fired and was going to be off after this weekend for the holiday break.

"This private conversation was not related in any way to the mourning of Michael," the restaurant's statement said. "We carelessly let the stresses of family and business replace the professionalism, respect and empathy that every employee and person deserves."

As part of its apology, the restaurant donated $1,000 to a GoFundMe page for Sot's medical and burial expenses along with 10 percent of sales for the rest of the week.

They also said they have been receiving hate messages and threats.

"We understand the anger and animosity that has been created by these posts, and ask for the communities’ forgiveness," the restaurant said.

In the texts, the employee asks if a new host was ready to work on Saturday or Sunday so that the worker could attend Sot's funeral. The employee explains that Sot was a close friend and includes a link to a news story about his death.

"Oh wow. Thank you. Just don't come back to work," was the initial response from the owner identified as Katie. "I like you but I'm sick of all staff not taking their job seriously and just f***ing expect me to cover all your shifts. I have a business to run at the end of the day. And a family."

The employee defended herself and said she shows up on time for her shifts.

"I'm looking for a cover before calling out. It doesn't get more responsible than that. Letting someone go because of a death is unethical," she said.

Katie said that if no one could cover the shift "I have to let you go. Sorry."

Katie also told her employee, whose name was not disclosed, that she didn't feel bad "so don't pull the college student unethical card" and asked for her final decision so she knew what her weekend plans would be.

The owners of Cafe 72, which was open for business on Thursday morning, did not yet return a phone call.

Mayor Bert H. Steinmann told New Jersey 101.5 he has always had positive experiences with Cafe 72 and they're never turned down a charitable request.

"They've been a very good neighbor with Ewing Township. They've helped individuals. We had the situation with the gas explosion and they supplied food for the victims," Steinmann said.

 

Cafe 72 in Ewing (Dan Alexander/Townsquare Media)

Six people, including five TCNJ students, continue their recovery from serious injuries from a head-on collision on Route 31 near the Ewing campus early Sunday morning. The college on Thursday said the condition of Matt DeGenova, 21, of Wall has improved sufficiently to allow him to be transferred to a rehab facility near his home. Three students are still in the hospital, however, and two remain in serious condition.

The college plans a vigil on campus early next week.

David Lamar V, 22, of West Windsor is being held at the Mercer County Jail pending a detention hearing scheduled for Tuesday in Superior Court in Trenton.

Lamar was trying to pass a car in front of him on Route 31 near the campus, according to a criminal affidavit. By doing so, his Kia Optima crossed a double yellow line into the northbound lane and into the path of the 2007 Dodge Charger driven by Sot. Sot died from his injuries Monday.

Sot's funeral service will be held Sunday at the Higgins & Bonner Funeral Home in Westfield at 3 p.m. Friends are requested to attend a Mass at St. John the Apostle in Clark Monday at 10 a.m.

Message from Ben & Katie, owners of Cafe 72

Hello to all of our loyal customers. My name is Ben, the owner and operator of Café 72, a long standing family run business. I am also the husband of “Katie Café 72”. You may or may not have seen some posts on social media reflecting an interaction with a current Café 72 employee whom is also a TCNJ student affected by the recent tragic death of Michael Sot. The employee was not fired. Her last shifts were this weekend before leaving for holiday break to be with her family and friends until January 28th. This private conversation was not related in any way to the mourning of Michael. Although this interaction was displayed completely out of context by a friend of the employee and drastically misrepresents Katie and our establishment, we recognize that there is NOTHING that excuses it. We carelessly let the stresses of family and business replace the professionalism, respect and empathy that every employee and person deserves. We have received countless hate emails, bad reviews and threatening phone calls and ask that they STOP. We understand the anger and animosity that has been created by these posts, and ask for the communities’ forgiveness. On behalf of Café 72 and our family, we offer our sincerest apology. We have been residents of Ewing and operated business for many years in this township. Café 72 has gone above and beyond for Ewing Township and TCNJ through gas explosions, hurricanes, snow storms and other tragedies and will continue to do so. We recognize that it is our patrons and the community that make us special and a place to come together as one. We would like to turn the tremendous amount of negativity around and create as much positivity as possible by contributing $1000 to Michael’s GoFundMe page. We would also like to add to this donation by giving another 10% of all sales the remainder of this week in his honor. Thank you for taking the time to read this and we wish everyone a happy and healthy holiday season.

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNJ

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