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When tragedy strikes and lessons learned

Owning a business can be amazing. You make your own money, make your own decisions and make your own schedule. But, recently I’ve learned that tragedy can strike fast. Within one week I learned that my dad’s restaurant was being sued and filing bankruptcy and my fiancé’s work vehicles were set on fire. It has been incredibly heartbreaking and stressful dealing with these incidents, but I hope that by sharing these stories, other business owners will be better prepared for worst case scenarios.

Mac and Bob’s declares bankruptcy

My dad has owned a restaurant in Salem, Virginia for 38 years and it has grown to be one of the local’s favorite spots. Unfortunately, Mac and Bob’s was just slapped with a class action lawsuit by a former employee for a tip pooling violation.

Here’s what happened: Mac and Bob’s (like most restaurants) require their servers to tip out other employees at the end of each shift based on a percentage of their sales. Servers typically tip out the bus boys, bartenders, food runners, hosts/hostesses and in Mac and Bob’s case, the dishwashers. When I was a waitress at the Cheesecake Factory, it wasn’t uncommon for me to tip out over $70 at the end of my shift.

My dad believed the dishwashers had the hardest job in the restaurant and wanted to limit turnover so Mac and Bob’s changed their policy to require servers to tip 1% of their sales to dishwashers instead of the hosts/hostesses.

This policy was legal when it was put in place, but in 2011 the law changed and it went unnoticed. It turns out that dishwashers fit into a category of “kitchen employee” which means legally, they aren’t allowed to be tipped out if they make over minimum wage (which they were… $9-12/hour). Hosts and hostesses, however, can be tipped out.

The former employee (with an extensive criminal history) worked with an attorney in Texas to file this lawsuit and Mac and Bob’s ended up settling for over $17,000. Sadly, within one week, another former employee came forward with the same Texas attorney. They clearly had this lined up and were hoping to make even more money off my dad’s restaurant.

Mac and Bob’s is a small, family-owned business. They are not a national chain. If all 156 employees that were eligible came forward to join the suit, the cost would be well over a million dollars. Because of that, their only option was to file Chapter 11 bankruptcy to keep the doors open for business.

Photo by Shawn Nowlin | Salem Times Register

The good news in all of this is that my hometown, Salem, Virginia, is a tight knit, small town that came out in masses to support us. One group of kids set up a lemonade stand to “Save Mac and Bob’s” and “Save the Calzone”. One of the kids then rode their bike to my dad’s house to hand deliver the $111 in a pencil box. The days following the announcement, Mac and Bob’s was packed with loyal customers and friends in the community. And, in just a matter of days, $138,000 was raised on a GoFundMe that was set up by a family friend to help with legal fees. The remaining money will go to a new scholarship for Mac and Bob’s employees.

While this is still an awful situation, the amount of support has been truly incredible to see.   


Sunshine Window Cleaning faces arson

My fiancé is a co-owner of Sunshine Window Cleaning in Asheville, NC. One week after finding out the news about my dad’s restaurant, Geoff got a call at 2:30 in the morning from the Asheville Police telling him that his work vehicles were on fire. He drove down to his office to find that his new work van was completely destroyed and the van beside it had significant damage. Not only that, but $5,000 worth of equipment was destroyed along with the vehicles.

We’re not totally sure who’s responsible for this, but I believe it’s the homeless people that set up camp in the woods behind his office. Geoff has had equipment stolen from their shed in the past so when more and more tents started popping up behind the shed, Geoff reported the camp to the police. I think this fire was a revenge fire. A porta-potty and dumpster were also lit on fire that night.

Fortunately, we think most of this will be covered by insurance, but without two vehicles and most of their equipment, Geoff was worried that business would suffer. While we waited for the insurance check, Geoff installed a ladder rack to his truck so his crew could take it out while he looked for new vehicles. Geoff and I have been sharing my car in the meantime.

We’re grateful that no one was hurt during this process, but it’s still very disturbing. They haven’t caught anyone and I doubt they will, but Geoff just installed cameras to hopefully better monitor what is going on.


Lessons learned

I’m still processing and digesting all of this, but here are a few things I’ve learned throughout this whole ordeal:

Community

While there are evil people in this world, I genuinely believe they are outnumbered by the good. It has been absolutely incredible to see the support come in for my family and the restaurant. Geoff also received an immense amount of support with his situation. Customers who saw the news emailed and called him to share their condolences and one local window cleaning company, Sky Clean, offered to loan Geoff a vehicle to help out. How amazing!

Community has a whole new meaning for me now. I went home the weekend the bankruptcy was announced to be with my family and help out around the restaurant. I ran food and bussed tables and hugged and thanked so many people. I cried so many happy tears because I was so moved by the people that stood up for us. Before this was all announced I was scared and nervous, but I told Geoff that Salem would catch us when we fell. And they did. It’s made me realize the importance of community, the importance of giving back and the importance of helping each other out.

Honesty

Sadly, we live in a time where lying and name calling is very normal, but I have to say I’m extremely proud of the way my dad has handled this sad situation. Rather than focus on the person that brought all this pain, he admitted his fault and said he should have known the law. He said that this person had every right to sue him because it is the law. It’s sad, but it’s true. People make innocent mistakes, but they’re still mistakes and it’s better to own up to them than point blame somewhere else. It’s been a good reminder to me that when things go south, honesty is always the way to go.

Protection

Okay, I think it goes without saying that these stories should help you prepare for the worst. You don’t think it can happen, but it can in the blink of an eye. Since these incidents, I’ve already hired a business attorney and I’m in the process of getting business insurance. Everyone’s business is set up differently, but I encourage all you business owners to consider the worst case scenario and protect yourselves!


If you’re interested in reading more about either of these stories, please check out the links below:

Sunshine Window Cleaning

WLOS Article (9/18/18)

Arson investigation underway after 2 vans burned at Asheville business

Mac and Bob’s

Salem Times Article (9/27/18)

Community shows support for Mac & Bob’s Restaurant after bankruptcy announcement

Roanoke Times Article by Dan Casey (9/25/18)

The Roanoke Valley turns out to 'Save the calzone' in Salem

WSLS News Video by Patricia Martellotti (9/23/18)

Mac and Bob's restaurant serves packed crowd despite financial crisis

WDBJ7 News Video by Joe Dashiell (9/20/18)

Roanoke Valley rallies around Mac and Bob's restaurant

WFXR News Video by Ford Carson (9/20/18)

Beloved Salem restaurant forced to declare bankruptcy

Roanoke Times Article by Dan Casey (9/19/18)

Tipping lawsuit leads popular Salem restaurant to declare bankruptcy

 
Business, PersonalKatie Rotanz