When Ruth and head chef Paul Greene reported for work on Friday morning they found a chain had been locked to the door, preventing access to the restaurant, but could get no explanation of what was happening.
“To walk in with a lock on the door is just disrespectful,” said Ruth, who was a cook at the Marquis Ltd.-owned restaurant in the Broadway Mini Mall.
“It would have been nice to have an explanation. It’s disappointing... especially this time of year.”
While the closure was a shock, Greene said he had some idea Thursday that something was going on.
The restaurant had been storing food products in an upstairs office but had been asked to stop. He was told items were being moved to the old KFC location on West Street.
But Greene said it wasn’t only food that was being moved, workers were dismantling shelves and the computer and printer were gone.
He later spoke with the restaurant’s night baker who said she’d been told by management not to come in because the restaurant was closing until after Christmas, or until they heard more from the owner.
Greene and Ruth weren’t contacted by anyone and showed up for work at 8 a.m. on Friday. Greene had keys to open the front door to the building, but once inside they were meet with the chained door.
He said the chain was put there by the owners of the building, the Alteens..
When contacted by The Western Star at her home in St. John’s, Marquis Ltd. owner Renee Marquis confirmed the restaurant had been closed and expressed shock by how the whole thing unfolded.
Marquis said she was approached by the Alteens to put a restaurant in the mall back in August. Her original plan was to convert the KFC on West Street, which had been managed by Marquis Ltd., to an Oppy’s after the company decided not to renew its franchise agreement with the U.S.-based Yum Brands Inc.
It was a turnkey operation and, despite some concerns, Marquis decided it would be a good place to try the Oppy’s model. She said the company invested quite a bit of capital in getting the restaurant ready.
But since opening Oppy’s encountered nothing but problems.
“It’s just been a dismal disappointment,” said Marquis.
When Greene was hired, the plan was to train the other cooks on the west coast once the Broadway location was running smoothly.
But Marquis said travelling to the other locations became an issue for Greene. Still, she continued to support Greene despite personality differences between he and four different managers.
“I have nothing but good words to say about the man’s ability as a chef, he’s just a great chef.”
But Marquis questioned his managing of interpersonal relationships in the restaurant, including not allowing waitresses and managers in the kitchen.
With the staff issue, lack of traffic and rising costs, things came to a head for Marquis.
“It’s like the perfect storm happened,” she said. “I’m trying to keep it open through Christmas. I don’t want to spoil anybody’s Christmas.”
Then she got a call from her accountant telling her to shut down. She tasked local managers with handling the closure, but instructions got passed on from one to the other.
“It ended up being handled badly,” she admitted.
Marquis said the Alteens should have been contacted and the staff, but instead gossip started to circulate. This led to the Alteens locking the restaurant to prevent any equipment from being removed.
She said she had no intention to skip out on any outstanding rent or pay for the employees.
“This was just managed badly and I have to take responsibility for it because I’m the one whose name is on the business, but I must say it was a contribution from all hands in this one.”
She apologized for any stress caused to those involved, and said the Alteens will receive what they are owed and the employees will be paid up to the last hour worked. Layoff notices and records of employment were being prepared.
She’s not sure if this situation will affect her plans to open on West Street and expressed concern that it may have affected her reputation.
Greene responded to Marquis’ comments by saying he did have issues with managers that stemmed from how the kitchen was handled, including an almost continuous problem with double ordering stock.
Greene said he likes to run a professional kitchen.
“If a waitress came behind the line I would certainly ask her to leave because that’s a safety issue,” he said. “Somebody could turn around with a knife or hot pot.”
Greene said he was brought in to raise the standards of the restaurant.
“If these owners want to continue having a restaurant they can’t run it like it was KFC.”
He also has some concerns over how the employees will be paid. He said the timesheets, some not completed, were removed from the restaurant and staff has no contact to provide that information.
Meanwhile, the owners of the building declined to comment on the situation, only to say it was being dealt with by their legal representatives.