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Former Chicago restaurant employee says he was fired for revealing unsanitary kitchen conditions

A former employee of a Chicago restaurant is claiming he was wrongfully terminated after filming videos of what he believes were unsafe conditions caused by a drain backup.

A former employee of a Chicago restaurant is alleging he was wrongfully terminated after recording videos of what he describes as unsanitary conditions in the kitchen.

According to a former server at Hugo's Frog Bar & Fish House on Rush Street, he and other employees raised health concerns last month after a drain backup during business hours caused sewage to enter the kitchen.

Matthew Cabrales said he filmed several cellphone videos on June 4 exposing the alleged unsafe conditions in the restaurant. He said that after reporting sanitation concerns over the water backup in the kitchen, restaurant staff were instructed to continue serving customers.

Cabrales said he was told the following day not to return to work for his shift. He claimed days after his firing that he lost his job for using his cellphone during his shift to record the videos.


The former server has since hired attorney David Fish of Fish Potter Bolaños, P.C. They filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board on Monday alleging Cabrales was wrongfully terminated, with Cabrales seeking lost wages.

"It smelled like sewage as soon as you hit the back of the house, as soon as you opened that little slide door, it smelled like sewage, and when you went to the back dish pit where the sewage was coming up, it smelled like feces directly," Cabrales told Fox 32. "We have a lot of elderly people and children, it's a family restaurant, people of all ages, and we're wading through water that has sewage in it and tracking that into the dining room."

But Gibson’s Restaurant Group, which owns the restaurant, said the issue was quickly resolved and that employees and customers were not exposed to any unsafe conditions.

"Hugo's Frog Bar on Rush Street had a drain back up in its dishwashing area one evening last month which caused some puddling under the kitchen floor mats in the back-of-house," a spokeswoman said in a statement to Fox 32. "We are proud of the team who immediately sprang to action to find the cause, call in support, and clean and sanitize the area. Dishes to be cleaned were moved to an alternate dishwashing station until the situation was resolved." 

"At no time was the health or safety of our customers or employees in danger – if there had been any risk, we wouldn't hesitate to shut down, just like we voluntarily closed our patio to protect our employees and customers when the air quality in Chicago was hazardous," she continued. "Hugo's has always provided a safe working environment for its employees."


The spokeswoman said drainage incidents like this "happen in the restaurant business" and that workers "regularly rod and jet our drains." 

"In fact, our sanitary procedures go above and beyond what is required by the City, including a voluntary quarterly third-party inspection to assure we are operating at the highest standards of hygiene, cleanliness and sanitation," she said. "A big shout out to the members of our team who rose to the occasion."

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