Tony Scala and Elizabeth Johnson outside the Broken Arrow restaurant in Portland on Monday. Scala, a former bar manager at the restaurant, and Johnson, the former front-of-house manager, say they had multiple paychecks bounce. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Portland restaurant Broken Arrow closed after eight staffers quit late last month, some citing problems with bounced paychecks, in at least the second employee walkout since the restaurant opened less than four years ago.

Owners Lyle and Holly Aker said they had decided to close the Congress Street restaurant May 23 and were “still navigating the best way to handle the announcement for our staff, customers and investors” the next day, when front-of-house manager Elizabeth Johnson and bar manager Tony Scala – both of whom say they had multiple Broken Arrow paychecks bounce in the past several months – told the Akers they were quitting.

“We were walking in with intention of giving them our keys, thanking them for the opportunity, and letting them know that we were deciding to part ways,” Johnson said. “When Tony expressed to Lyle that he was disappointed that paying employees wasn’t their No. 1 priority, it became physical.”

Johnson and Scala claim that Aker assaulted Scala, “shoving” him in the bar. Scala said he filed a police report immediately after. A Portland Police Department spokesperson said the matter has been forwarded to the Cumberland County District Attorney’s office. A spokesperson for that office had no further information. Johnson said six more staffers quit Broken Arrow immediately after hearing details of the situation.

Broken Arrow owners Lyle and Holly Aker at the Portland restaurant in 2022. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

The Akers, who declined a request for an interview, dispute Johnson and Scala’s account of the incident.

“We are very saddened to report the ex-employee came to the restaurant unexpectedly, in an elevated emotional state and for no purpose we can understand but to continue the verbal abuse he was separated for and berate me for my failures,” Lyle and Holly Aker said in an email Monday.


“There were three other people in the room who 100% dispute this employee’s allegations,” the email said. “… This is an unfortunate incident, during an extremely stressful time for us, in the wake of our failed business.”

The Akers said they had put the restaurant’s physical space up for sale several months ago before they “made the decision to close Broken Arrow with its sale pending, after four hard years of trying to keep the doors open and a mound of debt continuing to pile on us. … With the continual financial struggle, us fighting to make payroll every week, we knew selling was the only option.”

The restaurant announced its closure Friday in a brief post on Instagram, saying, in part: “It’s been fun and very hard. Grateful for the memories made and the friends. This journey is at the end.”

The Akers had planned to open their modern American fine-dining restaurant in March 2020, but the pandemic and related complications delayed its launch until that fall. It eventually drew buzz, however, and in November 2022 received a four-star review from the Press Herald.


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But in May 2023, the chef, chef de cuisine and general manager quit on the same day, forcing the restaurant to close until it could restaff the key positions. At the time, the former general manager said that the restaurant’s other 10 staffers quit after hearing the development with the management team, though Lyle Aker disputed that.

Johnson said that last November was the first time one of her paychecks from Broken Arrow bounced. Subsequent checks had similar problems. “Paychecks continued to bounce to the point where my bank stopped accepting checks from them,” Johnson said.


Scala said there was a period this spring when four consecutive biweekly paychecks bounced, leaving him without an income stream for more than two months.

Johnson said all the other employees have received their last checks via direct deposit. She received a paper check in the mail, though the bank told her it was unable to cash it. Scala said he’s been told he will receive his last paycheck in the mail as well.

Johnson said restaurant staff attempted to sit down and confront the owners a few times about the problems at the restaurant and suggest improvements that could be made. “We were always told that they are doing everything they can. It didn’t feel that way to us,” she said.

“For a period of time leading up (to May 24), we were growing increasingly worried about the future of the restaurant and the stability of our jobs because liquor and food orders were incomplete or missing,” Johnson said. “Sometimes we didn’t have the ingredients for batching cocktails or food items on the menu, and Broken Arrow has a small menu, so it’s difficult when people sit and you have to tell them you’re out of two to three things on the menu that night.”

The Akers tell a different story.

“We have spent four years scraping together resources to continue to operate this business and have been extremely transparent with our staff about our financial difficulty. We have communicated regularly around payroll issues and labor percentages,” their email said. “This entire situation is a shame and breaks our already broken hearts. We are exhausted and would like to move on with our burden of debt and massive loss of financial income as we consider bankruptcy in peace. We are actively selling the business to cover a small percentage of money owed to our investors and any outstanding debts to vendors.”

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