Mi-‘Steak’-en anger

A seemingly popular West End restaurant closed this week without warning, leaving its staff unexpectedly jobless and plenty of fingers pointed angrily at its owner.

This was the angle most commonly reported during coverage of the closing of Quaker Steak and Lube on West Broad Street, and while it’s certainly a difficult situation coming a few weeks before the holidays, there’s also another angle that doesn’t get coverage – perhaps because it doesn’t fit the broadcast narrative.

The common cry here is “How could someone do this to his employees – and just weeks before Christmas, no less?! How dare he!”

The story is a sad one, but what alternative was feasible? Presumably the owner did not decide to pull the plug on a profitable endeavor. Should he have continued to lose more money personally so that others could continue to take home a paycheck, simply because the holidays are upon us? I’m not so sure that fits the mold of “Christmas spirit,” either.

Do I feel for those who lost their jobs without warning? Of course. Do they have the right to be upset? Certainly. Would it have been nice for them to have gotten some warning? Probably.

But let’s also consider the owner of this particular business – or even better, of a “generic” restaurant owner in a similar situation, since I have no specific knowledge about this individual situation.

This generic restaurant owner is a person who has invested his or her own money – usually in a five- or six-figure amount – to start the business or buy a franchise. A person who probably spends seven days a week in the business, who is sacrificing most other aspects of life to run things every day. A person who is tasked with hiring and training employees, ensuring that they’re doing what they should do, ensuring that he or she can make payroll, ensuring that the food and quality and service and reputation of the establishment reflect what he or she stands for. A person who most likely has several hefty loans on top of a hefty rent payment on top of tax payments and a whole host of other responsibilities.

In short – a person who stands to lose far more than any of the people he or she employs if things go wrong.

I’ve never worked in the food service field, but I’ll assume that it didn’t earn a reputation as one of the most challenging industries by accident. I do, however, own a business, and I know the constant concerns and stresses that exist for all business owners. Owning a business of any kind is a 24/7/365 endeavor. You’re never NOT thinking about the business.

The decision to close a business that you’ve started or purchased and into which you’ve invested countless hours, resources and dollars is not one made flippantly.

In this case, was it wrong for the owner just to pull the rug from beneath his employees? Perhaps. But when large corporations lay off employees, don’t they frequently escort them from the building the same day and never allow them to return? How would morale have been had this owner told everyone two weeks ago, “Guess what guys? We’re a sinking ship, and we’re closing in two weeks. Consider yourselves warned, and feel free to go look for new jobs.”

What kind of morale would exist for those two weeks? Would anyone really be focused on giving 100 percent knowing that their jobs were going away soon? Presuming the business had been losing money up to that point, would there have been any reason to assume it wouldn’t have continued to do so afterwards, too?

And if the owner had determined that the business was going to close in two weeks anyway, why continue to lose more money over that period of time? The bottom line is that when a business owner has decided enough is enough, it’s not a pretty situation any way you slice it. Were this particular restaurant making sufficient profits, it would have remained open. Clearly it was not, and the owner made the difficult decision to close.

I may not agree completely with the manner in which he shuttered the place, but neither can I feel sorry only for his employees.

E-mail Citizen Publisher Tom Lappas at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).
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Henrico Business Bulletin Board

June 2017
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Henrico County will present “Red, White, and Lights” at Meadow Farm Museum/Crump Park. The free event begins at 4 p.m. and will feature the Richmond Symphony, a laser-light show, patriotic performances, food trucks, contests and games, inflatables and other family activities. A Henrico County 4th of July Celebration has taken place annually since 1981, and this is the second year the event has been held later in the day with a finale by the Richmond Symphony and laser-light show. The symphony will perform under “The Big Tent,” a state-of-the-art mobile stage that allows the orchestra to take its music out into the local communities. Red, White, and Lights is sponsored by Henrico County and Genworth. For details, visit http://www.henrico.us/calendar/red-white-lights-2. Full text

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