Lights out for Duel Brewing

Employees go unpaid following mysterious closure

It looks like history for the Santa Fe brewery that fancied naming its brews after characters from art and literature.

Former Duel Brewing employee Molly Wendland tells SFR she'd been paid late and even received bad checks numerous times during her six-month stint at the restaurant, brewery and sometimes live music space. But following service on the last Sunday night of January, owner Trent Edwards sent a group message via the Slack app to employees stating that the business was shutting down. Duel's Albuquerque location faced a similar fate in October of last year.

This was roughly 10 hours before Wendland's next shift, and by the following morning, the company's Slack, as well as Duel's entire social media presence, had been deleted.

The doors to the Rufina-area business remain locked, emails sent to official Duel Brewing addresses by SFR bounced back as "failed" and Wendland says Edwards "dropped off the face of the Earth." She estimates the brewery owes her three entire paychecks, and says Edwards promised her and other employees they'd be paid as soon as possible. They never were.

"Business had been slow and we were all worried it would close down, but we were assured it would not," Wendland, who says she'd make between $5 to $8 an hour depending on the shift, says. "We were already making minimal money, but it was like, 'OK, I'll get that $100 to $150 on my paycheck, and that can go toward my rent.'"

Wendland says she's been applying to jobs daily since Duel closed, but that the off-season in Santa Fe has proven to have scant few options. Meanwhile, former server Devin Schooley, who worked at Duel for a little more than month before it closed, agrees the lack of pay has been difficult.

"In the short amount of time I was over there, other than the business itself being slow, there weren't really any other red flags," he says. "But at this point, it would nice and certainly helpful and a general act of professionalism [from Edwards] … his employees were basically working for free. But I don't have the highest hopes of being paid, all things considered."

Schooley now works for Second Street Brewery at the Rufina Street Taproom.

Both Wendland and Schooley, along with other former Duel employees, filed claims with New Mexico's Department of Workforce Solutions over unpaid wages on Friday Feb. 8; however, that process may take longer than anticipated. In most cases, the state sends a letter to the business owner requesting a specific unpaid dollar amount be paid. According to Wendland, Duel employees were told that Edwards would have 20 days to respond to such a letter, but as of Tuesday March 12, she was informed by a Department of Workforce Solutions administrator that the letter was not sent "due to a larger investigation." Instead, department Secretary Bill McCamley tells SFR the department issued a subpoena to the business through its last known address.

"It's part of a larger, directed investigation, and this is fairly common with employers who have more than one claim," he tells SFR. "We issued a subpoena today [for financial records], and we're going to see what the information from that brings us."

McCamley tells SFR that Edwards is currently facing 10 claims of wage theft.

"I would also point out that wage theft was not emphasized under the last governor, but there is an emphasis under Michelle Lujan Grisham," he adds. "It's something we're taking very seriously and something we're pursuing with vigor. The law is there for a reason, and if they're not being paid what they're legally owed, there's not a difference between that and taking from someone's savings account."

SFR attempted to reach Edwards by phone, but messages were not returned.

And Wendland remains unemployed.

"The past month has been incredibly stressful," she explains. "I'm in school, I'm trying to find a job—I'm just trying to get paid."

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