When the Food for Life Supreme restaurant at 3489 W. Siebenthaler Ave. in Dayton opened in 2007, managers said the fish- and vegetable-based eatery wanted to “transition people to a healthier lifestyle.”
But a few years later, inside the building with a marble and slate tile, copper-trimmed tables and original framed artwork, Kendra Ross said she was enduring a lifestyle of misery.
Ross cooked, served and cleaned for most of the 13,650 hours she worked in Dayton and Cincinnati Food for Life Supreme restaurants, according to Ross’ attorney, Betsy Hutson.
The case is unique, local officials said, because Ross’ plight was happening while customers visited a public restaurant.
“It’s happening literally in plain sight,” said Tony Talbott, the interim executive director at the University of Dayton’s Human Rights Center and also the director of Abolition Ohio. “I always tell folks it’s much better to say something and be wrong than to just sort of shrug your shoulders and walk on by.”
The organization Ross called a cult, now known as Value Creators, owned and operated the restaurants, according to her federal complaint .
Value Creators declined comment about Ross’ settlement.
“In a lot of ways, this was just kind of right out in the open,” Ross said. “The phrase, ‘If you see something, say something’ is thrown around, but it certainly applies in this case.
“It really would take just a few people noticing that something looked off, particularly with the children who aren’t going to school and are working in these establishments.”
Ross’ story of human trafficking in various cities around the country, including Dayton, came to light when she sued the United Nation of Islam (UNOI) and its founder, Royall Jenkins.
Earlier this year, Ross was awarded an $8 million judgment against the cult by a federal judge who handled the lawsuit.
Ross said she would typically work as many as 17 hours per day, six days per week in the Siebenthaler restaurant that served a dish including a “freedom sauce.”
That didn’t include the hours Ross said she spent taking care of cult members’ houses, where she had to cook, clean and care for children who lived there.
Officials urge anyone suspecting “modern-day slavery” to call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline at (888) 373-7888.
BY THIS REPORTER: Read other stories from Mark Gokavi