An Insider's Take on Soma Center's Restaurant Shuffle

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The Soma Center Cafe in Lake Worth has long been a favorite spot for healthy eating in Palm Beach County. New Times named it Best Vegan Restaurant this year, praising the deliciously fresh, innovative dishes and warm, free-loving atmosphere.

But behind the counter at the crunchy, laid-back café, insiders say, chaos is common.

The abrupt closing of Soma's West Palm Beach location a few weeks ago -- just two months after it opened -- has created some turmoil at the Lake Worth location. A former chef/manager in Lake Worth, who spoke to New Times on the condition of anonymity, says the West Palm shutdown happened very suddenly.

"They closed the doors and packed everything up without any explanation to the public," she wrote in an email. "They never got the business that I think they thought they would. Also, another raw restaurant was scheduled to open the week that they ended up closing, so I think they were intimidated by that."

Three days later, when the chef reported for work in Lake Worth, she was told she had been let go. "They laid off five people from the Lake Worth location," she wrote. "They have since called most of them back, but as far as I know, only one may have gone back.

"I think a lot of them, me included, were a little angry at how the whole thing came down. But I have heard that this is how they operate and how they have treated people in the past."

Interestingly, Raine and Shawn Rodriguez, who were brought in to run the now-defunct West Palm shop, are now running the show in Lake Worth. New Times tried repeatedly to interview them about the management shuffle, but they kept saying they were too busy to talk. Indeed, Raine appeared slightly overwhelmed on a recent evening, preparing food, serving, and running the cash register.

Finally, Shawn Rodriguez answered the phone and declined to comment on the layoffs. "I don't think that would be the business of the news media," he said.

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