ALBANY — The owner of Ichiban Restaurant in Albany says business is down somewhat in recent weeks — and attributes the dip to confusion stemming from a controversy involving a now-shuttered restaurant of the same name, but with different ownership.
On Aug. 12, agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested Xue Hui Zhang, an undocumented immigrant who had been a cook at the now-shuttered Ichiban restaurant on 1652 Western Ave. in Guilderland. Controversy over the arrest ensued.
For more than five years, the Ichiban location on Western Avenue had a different owner than the Ichiban at 338 Central Ave., which never employed Zhang.
Zhang had filed a $200,000 wage theft lawsuit against the owner of the now-closed Western Avenue location. He was arrested in Latham during a lunch break while giving a deposition in the lawsuit. Zhang’s lawyer has alleged that the owner of the closed Western Avenue Ichiban notified ICE agents about the cook’s whereabouts — a charge that an attorney for the defunct restaurant has denied.
In the three weeks since the Times Union wrote about the controversy, in-person dining at the Central Avenue Ichiban is about the same, but delivery and takeout orders have dipped from about 120 a day to about 70, according to Mei-Rong Li, who bought the Central Avenue restaurant in 2013.
“I just know that it affects by business,” Li said. She emphasized that she has no ties to the ownership of the Western Avenue location since she purchased the Central Avenue restaurant.
The Times Union confused the two identically named businesses in its initial story on the controversy. A prominent correction was made the next day, along with a second story about Li’s consternation.
Li says there are no plans to change the name of the restaurant.
Zhang, who worked at the Western Avenue restaurant from 2008 to 2015, had driven up from his home in Brooklyn to the Capital Region for the deposition in his wage theft suit.
After his arrest, Zhang was put in federal custody at the Buffalo Federal Detention Facility; he was released Sept. 6 on an order of supervision, according to a court filing.
He faces deportation to China, where he would likely face significant challenges recovering the $200,000 in allegedly unpaid wages. An attorney representing Zhang is fighting that outcome in federal court.
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