A cafe chain routinely paid its staff late and not in full for a decade and now owes some workers thousands of pounds, the BBC has found.
Forty-one people who have worked for Hackett's in Oxfordshire said they had been victims of wage discrepancies.
Some said their complaints were ignored and felt unable to leave over concerns they would never be paid.
Hackett's said it was "deeply concerned" that it owed "some staff a lot of money" and apologised.
Twelve employees told the BBC they were currently owed a total of £33,350 in unpaid wages. Amounts they said they were owed ranged from £600 to £7,000.
Michael Davies, a former waiter at the chain's Witney branch, said the problems started immediately when he did not receive his first pay cheque in 2018 and was rebuffed when he asked for his money.
"I was actually told [by Mr Hackett] to stop asking," he said.
Mr Davies said he was promised "things would get better" and believes others who stayed longer were "trapped" by Mr Hackett's repeated reassurances.
Another former employee, Mark Underhill, said he was not always paid in full and his wages were always late when he worked at the cafe between 2010 and 2012.
He said when he queried the discrepancies, he was told "that's what happens".
Mr Underhill said the lack of money resulted in him getting charged by his bank for being overdrawn and being unable to pay for essentials such as nappies for his baby.
Two people the BBC spoke to said they were successful in taking Hackett's to an employment tribunal - but did not receive any money after the former Hackett's company was liquidated in 2014.
Several of the firm's current employees, who were predominantly in their teens and 20s, said they refused to complain publicly out of fear it would result in them not being paid.
Late payment of wages is unlawful under The Employment Rights Act 1996.
Employment solicitor Sarah Whitemore said low-paid workers could often "fear" their employers, and younger workers were less likely to take legal action.
"So a lot of people then do feel almost enslaved within their businesses that they work for," she added.
The Carterton branch of the cafe was recently closed by bailiffs but Mr Hackett still runs outlets in Witney and Farmoor.
He told the BBC he was "deeply concerned" that Hackett's owed "some staff a lot of money" and he apologised.
Mr Hackett said he "never knowingly underpaid" his staff and was now trying to sell the business so "people will get paid".
He said he had made no money from the cafes and "tried really hard to pay wages on time".
See more on Inside Out South on BBC One in the south of England on Monday 24 February at 19:30 GMT and on BBC iPlayer here.