Cargot Brasserie closed for renovations, slated to become a steakhouse

A sign informing patrons Monday that Cargot Brasserie is closed. Photo: Krystal Knapp.

Cargot Brasserie, an upscale restaurant on the Princeton University campus in one of the former Dinky train station buildings, closed its doors Saturday night. The restaurant is closed for renovations until some time in September. Restaurant workers said it will become a steakhouse.

The adjacent Dinky Bar & Kitchen is serving breakfast seven days a week, in addition to lunch and dinner, for the duration of the closure. 

The Harvest Restaurant Group, which operates 11 restaurants in northern New Jersey, is buying Fenwick Hospitality Group’s Agricola, Dinky Bar & Kitchen, and Cargot, along with the company’s catering business. Fenwick Hospitality owner Jim Nawn’s Great Road Farm was not part of the sale to the Harvest Restaurant Group and was listed for sale in April, according to real estate databases. His former restaurant on Witherspoon Street, Two Sevens, was sold to a Princeton resident.

Employees said Cargot will be called Roots and will be modeled after the Harvest Restaurant Group’s Roots Steakhouses in Summit, Morristown and Ridgewood. Planet Princeton has reached out to the Harvest Group for comment but has not received a response.

Some employees at Cargot said it was their understanding that they would be redeployed to Agricola or the Dinky Bar by the Harvest Group after the Cargot closure, or would be paid until the new Roots opens and they are able to work there again. The employees said they were blindsided on the last day of work on Saturday when they were told Agricola and the Dinky Bar were fully staffed, and their option if they wanted jobs was to work at a Harvest restaurant in Morristown during the closure.

Cargot opened in the former Dinky Station the summer of 2017.

Cargot Brasserie is located in a former Dinky station building on the Princeton University campus. Photo: Krystal Knapp.

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16 comments
  • To clear up any misconceptions, one staff member from Harvest, Andy, came to talk to the staff at Cargot in June. If you did not have work that day you were not communicated to by Harvest directly, only by word of mouth by employees present. (Perhaps an email from Harvest to all staff would have been effective post-meeting). Their representative, Andy, said Cargot staff would be moved to Dinky, Agricola or possibly Roots in Morristown. He also went on for about 15 minutes about how if you cannot get placed at a restaurant, Harvest would compensate you the average you were making per pay period for the last few months. Staff were told that since hours/positions may be different at the other restaurants, staff would be compensated to meet their average no matter what. He verbatim said “no one needs unemployment, we take care of our staff.” And also verbatim said, “think of this as paid vacation time”.

    Former Cargot employees have been placed on the worst non-money making shifts at the Dinky bar. Working hours that the public doesn’t even know the Dinky is open if they were to look and depend on Google for hours of operation info. (Not to mention their new hours & breakfast menu have had zero marketing to help inform the public). Other staff have been moved to Agricola where their job positions have been changed. Servers/bartenders are food runners, which if you don’t know anything about restaurant positions, can be a serious pay cut. While I should not speak for these people (who I want to mention have voiced no personal grievance), it is important to note that their finances will be affected by this change as runners traditionally make less than both those other positions.

    While anyone still working for this company is happy to have jobs and happy to be team players (a testament to how amazing the staff of Cargot truly is), this company promised that the staff would be financially taken care of. They promised if their average wasn’t made at their new positions & jobs, Harvest would pay out and help staff meet their average. If this was not their intention, they should not have said this.

    One day before Cargot closed, they went back on their word. One day before Cargot closed, staff found out that there would be no compensation from Harvest as was promised. One day before Cargot closed, college-aged staff were laid off instead of compensated for their last month of pay before going back to school. No one will hire these kids for just one month, including Harvest which hung them out to dry. One day before Cargot closed, the back of house kitchen staff (many of whom are immigrants who are the most hard-working individuals, who work multiple jobs in Princeton, and who do not own cars) were told they have to travel to Morristown to work. Their mode of transportation is now a chef from Cargot who is responsible for carpooling them. One day before Cargot closed, staff were given ultimatums. Either work where we are placing you, or you essentially are quitting your job. Some of these employees have babies and small children, already facing a difficult time with child care without having to endure a 1hr+ commute to Morristown. Instead of treating staff as “family” as this company claims to do, the staff were told it is their way or the highway. Some of the individuals with families no longer work for the company due to this demand. Some have worked at Cargot since the day they opened. The definition of loyal staff members only to be let down in the end.

    Now employees at the other two restaurants are feeling effects. Employees were let go without proper notification by their managers because they don’t work “enough” part-time hours according to Harvest. Instead of being given options to add to their schedule, they were not communicated to and blocked from the schedule without any notification. I know of an employee who’s job position was erased by Harvest completely. Of course, Harvest was not open about this until after their acquisition of the three restaurants.

    For the most part, people were placed at new jobs which is appreciated. And that is what is important. However, several individuals were seriously overlooked. On top of that, Harvest lies. They lied initially about not planning to change Cargot, and now they lied about what employees could expect financially during the closure. While I believe Harvest to have good intentions, and to be an excellent hospitality business with much to offer the Princeton area, it is clear they are not effective communicators, nor have enough respect and regard for the staff they have acquired. Both of these negative characteristics are essential to run a successful restaurant, so here’s hoping they improve.

    Discontinuing patronage at the Dinky Bar, Agricola, and Roots upon its opening will only hurt the hardworking and faithful staff members who depend on the business of the residents of Princeton to surirve and make ends meet. Please consider that before boycotting and feeling illy towards restaurants that provide quality food and services, and have become staples within the town of Princeton over the last six years.

  • WOW just got a gift card from Cargo! I hope I can use it else where. They should not have sold a gift card if they knew they were closing!

  • This is bad news and the Harvest Group does not understand the market they are entering nor the business they bought.

  • Take a look at the Roots menu. Not field to table or interesting at all. This is an unwelcome retread. What a shame. Was hoping for something better than what we already have boatloads of in NJ.

  • I worked at Cargot as a host for about a month but left because of the poor management. I’ve worked as a host at other restaurants but never had I worked in one that was so unorganized. Any ideas that I would share to help make the FOH operations run smoother were automatically shut down. I was also paid substantially more at my previous jobs despite Cargot being the priciest and most “high-end” of all of the restaurants I’ve been with. Honestly, none of this news comes as a surprise.

  • “Roots Ocean Prime?” Sounds like the kind of would-be “upscale” restaurant you’d find in an airport. I predict it will fail based on the silly name alone.

  • Nope… not rectified. Decieved… lied too…BAMBOOZLED…HOODWINKED… just a few fancy words to relay my feelings towards ANDY AND CHIP FROM HARVEST GROUP. I was eager to attend your staff meeting that day so I could tell my crew to never fret Harvest is Here! Harvest went on to produce an excellent construction time compensation model…. listen up folks this is how Trump’s America works… they said stick with us.. EVERY Employee from the bowels of the dish pit to the highest of Management will get placed locally it’s up to you if you want to go to the taylor ham Capitol of north Jersey to work. Andy said we’re even gonna pay you the difference between what you make during this slug slow season and what you made the past 6 months at cargo….. gleefully I arrived to work that last day of business.. the puppet sorry the GENERAL MANAGER didn’t show her face so that beautiful soul from Agricola informed us …. no won’t be any money during construction nope princeton spots are full but you can go up north. Let’s get to the beautiful part about what makes america great again…. they lied so we wouldn’t desert them before they closed! Now who knows where my next pay check will come in…oy VEY! Oh yes the best part… they tried to circumvent unemployment! That’s right.. they placed people at currently underperforming restaurants and never even whispered ahhhhhh UNEMPLOYMENT… fellow staff….FLEEE ….ZOOOOMM….TAKE OFF from from the heathens you’ll make more money on unemployment… find anywhere else!

  • The new restaurant will be called “Roots Ocean Prime”? I’m pretty sure there is already a Roots restaurant in Princeton and there are Ocean Prime locations in over a dozen cities, including Philly and NYC. These new owners might want to do a bit more due diligence before moving forward.

  • Good Afternoon,

    Harvest Restaurants has yet to purchase Cargot but hopes to do so in the coming week. Harvest is a independent Restaurant Group that has multiple concepts. Yesterday fifteen Cargot employees were hired and currently working today. There are more joining us throughout the week. We have arranged for free transportation and gave every employee a pay raise for the inconvenience. Fenwick management has relocated almost all other Cargot employees to Dinky and Agricola. Our goal is to train our new team-mates so we can better prepare for our opening, keep there compensation coming and get them back to Princeton as soon as possible. We are excited about opening Roots Ocean Prime, which will be serving local fresh fish from the Jersey coast, prime meats, and vegetarian dishes. We have a great value Pre Theater dinner for the guests of McCarter Theater. Thank you for allowing me to share any misconceptions of Harvest and how we treat our team-mates. I would encourage any Cargot employee overlooked to reach out to me directly.

    God Bless, Chip Grabowski CEO Harvest Restaurants

  • Big expensive steak, just what one needs before going to McCarter. Bring back the Dinky station.

  • I’ve assumed these would go downhill with the acquisition. And this article proves me right: not researching local restaurant names (Roots already exists), deciding that what the area needs is yet another chain restaurant replacing a highly respected bespoke restaurant, mishandling the staff during the makeover guaranteeing that when it reopens they’ll have a team that’s never worked together. Used to like to go to these places; now I’m looking for replacements.

  • Shame on the new and old owners for their treatment of their employees! Thanksgiving 2018 family from near and far filled a long table at Cargo. Birthdays, solo lunches and lunches with friends found me there often as well as occasional days at Agricola and The Dinky. Unless the employee situation is rectified, I’m unwilling to support any of the three eateries.

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