Former employees of Golden Corral just want to know why

Published 1:59 pm Thursday, December 11, 2003

By By Connie Nowlin Managing editor
The owner of a local business gone belly-up blamed the failure on a weak economy.
"The business is closed," Roger McGowan, operator of the Golden Corral in Atmore said Monday.
"I will not come back and operate it as a business. It was purely an economic decision. It is economically unfeasible to keep it open," he said.
The restaurant closed its doors Thanksgiving night, and about 27 employees found themselves without a job. Some had indicated they knew the restaurant was in trouble; others had no inkling the ax was about to fall.
Many of the employees gathered at the restaurant Tuesday in a light drizzle, waiting for their paychecks, which McGowan was to bring from Andalusia.
The checks were late already.
"We were supposed to be paid Dec. 1," said Cindi Hicks, a former waitress. "We just want our money."
Employees from the Golden Corral McGowan operates in Andalusia had already entered the Atmore building to clean and help move equipment. Those workers told the laid off Atmore employees that they would not be paid until Thursday.
As they waited, it was hard to tell if the employees were more upset about the tardiness of their paychecks or the closure of the business.
"I've been working here eight years," said Terry Martin, a meat cutter and grill cook. "And they didn't tell us anything."
Hicks said she had asked about the business before it closed because of the rumors she was hearing.
"He denied we were closing. I volunteered to work Thanksgiving Day, and we were pulled aside and told that night that it was closing."
McGowan does not own the building on South Main, it is leased through the Golden Corral corporation. Bob McDevitt, vice president of operations for the North Carolina-based company, also said it was the franchisee's decision to close up shop.
McDevitt said the best thing for his corporation is to have an operating restaurant in the Atmore market.
It is not unheard of for the corporation to come in and operate a location itself, independent of a franchisee.
McGowan said it became too difficult to make the business pay when the choices for shopping in Atmore dwindled.
"People eat where they shop," he said. "Now that Kmart is closed, people go to Pensacola or Bay Minette to shop, and they eat there."
When McGowan did arrive Tuesday at the closed facility, he told the former employees what they did not want to hear – that it would be Thursday before they would be paid.
McGowan said he had wired the funds for paychecks to the staffing company who handles the payroll, and the checks would be sent to him Wednesday. He would bring them to the restaurant by 10 a.m. Thursday
Kelvin Jones, who was hired only two weeks ago, had already called the staffing company and said he was told Monday that no payroll had been turned in for Atmore.
Jones asked McGowan to show him the wire receipt for the payroll, which McGowan produced.
Other former employees asked to have verification of unemployment forms signed so that they could draw compensation.
"I went to the unemployment office already," said Tony Martin, brother of Terry Martin and head cook.
"They told me that it would be three weeks before we get anything, and then it is based on the last check we got."
Tanner wondered out loud how she was going to feed her children until she was paid or unemployment benefits started.
"I know it," said Tony Martin. "How am I going to tell my children that there won't be any Santa Claus this year?"

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