Fast-food shop owner takes off, employees take over
It was a scene right out of "Home Alone," but the locale was a Quiznos Sub shop in North Seattle, where the franchise owner was absent for...
Seattle Times business reporter
It was a scene right out of "Home Alone," but the locale was a Quiznos Sub shop in North Seattle, where the franchise owner was absent for weeks and the skeleton crew made do with a dwindling food supply and a lot of irate customers.
"Due to bad owners we are out of a lot of things, please do not get mad at the employees & manager," explained the cardboard sign on the door.
Inside, the dessert section was empty, the chip shelves were mostly bare (except for jalapeño chips) and the soda machine was fringed with little white "out of order" signs (except for Vanilla Coke).
"I'll have a large Out of Order," cracked one customer on Tuesday.
"Is that with ice or without?" Dawna Lentz, the store manager, shot back.
Things had been this way since November, Lentz said, just a month after the sub shop opened in a little strip mall on Holman Road.
Reluctant to quit because of a tough job market, the 25-year-old Lentz kept the restaurant running, relying on the loyalty of the shop's few remaining employees and her own scrappy improvisation.
Since food vendors would no longer deliver on credit, Lentz drove to discount grocers to buy lunchmeat, using cash from the previous day's till. She bought the special Quiznos bread from other franchises, rationing part of what was left after the lunch rush, so there would be enough for the crew working the dinner shift.
"Crew" was a generous term, since only three other employees remained from a staff that once topped a dozen. They started quitting around the time their checks started bouncing, Lentz said. James Zambrano, 26, stuck with the restaurant out of loyalty to Lentz, even though his unpaid wages reached about $450.
"I like working here," he said Tuesday, leaning against an empty countertop that was supposed to hold the soup, which the store also ran out of. "Everybody gets along like family."
Zambrano earns $7.60 an hour, but he only got paid for the full shift if there was enough money in the cash register.
She figured she accrued about $900 in back wages, a sum that doesn't include possible overtime for working 12-hour days. She arrived at the store by 9 a.m. and stayed all day or returned to close by 9 p.m.
At first, the shrinking menu and long lines caused by staff shortages infuriated customers.
"I've been called stupid, incompetent," Lentz said.
So she posted signs on the door listing the items they'd run out of. When the list reached three pages, she replaced it with the catch-all apology and plea for mercy.
On Tuesday, customers offered more sympathy than complaints.
"You're doing good for what you have to work with," said one, pouring some of the water out of her cup to avoid spilling. The store had run out of lids.
After being contacted by reporters, Quiznos representatives inspected the Seattle shop and removed Lentz's handmade signs. Yesterday, the company replenished the food supply and brought in support staff.
Lentz and others were paid the wages they were due, Quiznos spokeswoman Stacie Lange said yesterday. Lange added that the store is being transferred to new owners.
Lentz worried that she'd lose her job over the mess. But so far she's still the store manager, although now she's prohibited from talking to the media.
Lange said the franchise owners decide whom to hire or fire. But, she added, "The employees who were there yesterday are still there today."
Shirleen Holt: 206-464-8316 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Researcher Gene Balk contributed to this report.
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