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Yuka and Benoit from Arigato celebrate the judge’s ruling in their favour. Photograph by Star Freudenberg

Scene in court: Arigato v. Kino-Teatr

On Thursday 20 January, Hastings Law Courts in Bohemia Road witnessed a victory for a small business and showed that it is worth having the courage to represent yourself in the Small Claims Court when financial disputes cannot be settled amicably. HOT’s Erica Smith and Nick Terdre went to court.

It is not common for Hastings Online Times to go to court. In the past we have covered court hearings for the Combe Haven Defenders who battled against the building of the Hastings-Bexhill Link Road, but the battle in the County Court this week was between two local businesses who had been in dispute since 2020.

In early 2019, Yuka Yoshii-Viellefon begun to work as a member of the bar staff at Kino-Teatr. At the time, the in-house restaurant was Liban Coast, serving Lebanese and Syrian food. When the country went into lockdown at the end of March 2020, Liban Coast left Kino-Teatr and re-located to new premises in Marine Court.

Yuka and her partner Benoit took over the kitchen to run a Japanese restaurant, Arigato, which opened on 15 July 2020 after the second lockdown. Like Liban Coast, they had to operate the kitchen while Kino would operate the bar, and the till was shared with all the takings going to Kino’s bank account. They were concerned that they were being charged too much for staff costs and rent, compared to what was initially agreed in writing, while being denied access to the books, and raised the issue early with the Kino-Teatr management.

In January 2021, still unhappy with the proportion of takings from the till that Kino-Teatr was managing, Arigato decided to give their notice to Kino-Teatr and leave the premises, but Yuka and Benoit persisted in requesting an additional £4,805 which had been retained by Kino-Teatr to cover rent and staff costs without any accounting document being provided.

Small Claims Court battles are rarely exciting and glamorous. They are about spreadsheets and financial agreements. Most of them are settled within twenty minutes of court time. Arigato v Kino-Teatr took four hours. The case was full of drama, humour, embarrassing silences and unexpected turns, with a claim from Arigato, a counterclaim from Kino-Teatr, and a refused adjournment.

The judge was methodical and insisted on keeping a calm and slow pace. He listened to the claimant and defendant, carefully went through the figures that he was presented with, requested that the claimant and defendant did not interrupt – and firmly commanded that others in the court room ceased from nodding their heads too vigorously in agreement of a point!

“Outstanding performance”

In his summing up, the judge stated that he found in favour of the evidence of the claimants because it was much clearer and demonstrated a better understanding of business practice. Additionally, he remarked that the evidence they provided was impressive and that “their performance was quite frankly outstanding,” compared to that of the defendant whose presentation of evidence was “chaotic and lacked understanding of business practices”. Kino-Teatr’s counterclaim was dismissed entirely.

One of the important issues that arose as a result of the evidence in court was that front-of-house staff were paid in cash, and financial records covering the payments were not made available to the court.

Unrecorded cash payments leave workers in a vulnerable position. Whilst cash may seem attractive, are you a registered employee? If not, is the hourly rate really enough to cover your expenses as a self-employed person, paying your own tax, national insurance and pension contributions?

The final sum requested to be paid to Arigato within 14 days was £6,957.50:
£4,805 withheld rent and staff costs
£1,000 additional accounting costs
£410 issuing fees to court
£335 hearing fee
£80 for additional utilities
£327.50 interest accrued over 8 months

Hastings Online Times acknowledges that Kino-Teatr has a valuable role within the town. The cinema, gallery and restaurant are all spaces that are used and valued by the local community. We chose to cover this case in order to highlight the success of a small business run by two people who were brave enough to stand up in court without any legal assistance or advice to fight for what they knew was owed to them – and despite the fact that neither of them spoke English as a first language.

You can now find Arigato Japanese Cuisine at Heist Market, 22-26 Norman Road. The in-house restaurant at Kino-Teatr is Parlourread our interview with the proprietor Claire Rooney here. If you are in dispute for an amount under £10,000, you can represent yourself in the Small Claims Court – find out more about how to do it here.

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Thank you for your continued support!

Posted 09:38 Sunday, Jan 23, 2022 In: Local Economy

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