Former Bear Rock employees await paychecks after cumbersome closing
The furthest West and the very last Bear Rock Cafe in Colorado closed when the Grand Junction location shut its doors last week, and employees are still waiting to be paid.
“I have not seen my last check, but I’m pretty sure it’s going to be delivered today,” said JoLynn Garcia-Tillman, former catering director at Bear Rock. “I have been in touch with corporate and they informed me they were over-nighting it.”
About 12 to 15 employees were left jobless after the store at 2478 U.S. Highway 6&50 closed suddenly on Oct. 28, a day after a visit from state tax officials. The business was not seized, state tax officials confirmed. The tax bill was paid the day it was demanded, former employees said. Corporate owners then closed the store. The business had changed hands from former local owner Larry Hall to the corporate Atlanta-based company
Restaurant Growth Brands, which was trying to find a new franchisee, in mid-September.
According to the Colorado Department of Revenue, if a business has changed hands and a tax bill owed, the current entity in ownership is generally responsible. If the general ownership tax liability is true in the case of Bear Rock, the corporate entity has picked up the tab for both the tax, and has said it is making sure the former employees get paid.
“We want to make sure they get their checks and everyone is treated fairly and equitably,” said Andy Abbajay, president of Restaurant Growth Brands. “The former owner was doing well, but he just decided he did not want to be in the restaurant business. We think that site still might have a viable opportunity if someone comes along and wants to buy it.”
Restaurant employees said the prospective buyer couldn’t negotiate feasible terms of the rent with the building landlord.
“I heard that (the rent) is more than the rent is for the Ale House,” said Kathy Bell, former assistant manager. Business was slow at night at Bear Rock, but good during the day, she said. “I don’t look at it as being because of economic times. Between Larry, who owned it, and corporate, who took it over, there was just no communication on who was going to pay what.”
Garcia-Tillman said food distributorship was stopped twice. The first time, the restaurant had switched distributors, and the second time, the former owner had informed distributors he planned to close the store, she said. The restaurant had to resort to a distributor who didn’t supply the types of food Bear Rock customers expected and menus were changing, she said.
“We were having problems with our food distribution, we had this tax issue that popped up, and they didn’t have a new buyer,” Garcia-Tillman said. “My opinion of why they closed it is that there were just too many negatives to keep it running.”
Garcia-Tillman and Bell, both salaried employees, said they were working 80 hours a week during the transition and were told they would be compensated for it. It’s something they both said, to date, hasn’t happened. Brad Groll, a former manager for the Bear Rock store, resigned from his position in mid-September, right before the owner made the decision to get out of the business.
“I was shorted a week’s vacation pay,” Groll said. “I was owed two weeks and only paid one. The owner’s excuse was that I’d taken two Fridays to take my son to a doctor’s appointment, but I’d worked other days. It’s unfortunate - I gave him two weeks notice and set up some people who were qualified to take my job, but they finally gave it back to the corporation.” Hall did not return phone messages.
Groll said he was looking at pursuing his claim through small claims court.
The Longmont and Fort Collins locations of Bear Rock Cafe closed in August. The Littleton location, which was also formerly owned by Hall, also closed, Bell said.
The corporate office overseeing Bear Rock, moved recently from Raleigh, N.C. to Atlanta and changed its name from Bear Rock Franchise Systems, Inc. to Restaurant Growth Brands. It operates Bear Rock locations and La Petite Bistro.