LB Griller's ex-workers still await their pay Abrupt closing left them in lurch GLEN BURNIE

February 03, 1993|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,Staff Writer

Unlike some of her friends, 16-year-old Roxane MacDonald looked forward to her part-time job. Her supervisors at LB Griller's praised her hard work and punctuality and spoke of promoting the Glen Burnie High student.

But after working late one night and checking the next week's schedule, Roxanne came in the next morning to find an empty parking lot, a locked door and no explanation.

The former Rax Restaurant on Aquahart Road closed abruptly Jan. 17, leaving as many as 18 people out of jobs and out of their last two weeks' paychecks. Even though Griller's owner, Lawrence A. Barto, has promised to compensate his crew over the next five months, workers feel betrayed. They wonder why they weren't notified and whether they'll ever see their pay.

"It's a shame what took place," said Timothy Warthen, a former assistant manager who says Griller's owes him three weeks' pay, between $1,200 and $1,400. "The gentleman knew he was closing and still worked all these people."

Mr. Warthen came to the restaurant to open it Jan. 17 and found Mr. Barto, president of Cumberland Restaurant Corp., throwing away food. Mr. Barto said, "No work today," Mr. Warthen recalled.

Mr. Barto refused to let the assistant manager phone employees, telling him, "They'll find out when they come to work," Mr. Warthen said. Mr. Barto assured his assistant manager that the final paychecks were in the mail.

Cumberland owes money to all the workers and managers at the Glen Burnie store, said former manager Marvin Davis, who was not told the restaurant would close.

"We're left in limbo," he said. "I'm concerned about receiving my money. It's money I need and can use. To me, it's a substantial amount."

The corporation, which already had closed an LB Griller's in Brooklyn Park, also shut down LB Griller's in Hagerstown and Frederick but continues to run a restaurant in North Plaza in Baltimore County. Mr. Barto did not return repeated phone calls.

Cumberland Restaurant Corp.'s financial troubles started several years ago. Cumberland formed in 1978 to own and run five Rax Restaurant franchises in Maryland and generated profits until 1989. But sales dropped in 1990, as the recession hit and Rax pulled corporate support from franchises in Maryland, U.S. Bankruptcy Court records show.

Mr. Barto bought the business that year in December, launching a new advertising campaign, cutting operating costs, laying off managers and pumping in $60,000. But in December 1991, Cumberland filed for protection from creditors under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code, listing assets of $104,759 and debts of $533,148, including unpaid taxes to the Internal Revenue Service and the state.

In May, Cumberland ended its franchise agreements with Rax and became LB Griller's.

Cumberland filed a reorganization plan with the court in July, intending to pay creditors from the four remaining restaurants' incomes.

The company tried until last month to keep the Glen Burnie, Frederick and Hagerstown restaurants open, but "current financial circumstances have made that restructuring impossible," Mr. Barto wrote to employees several days after the closing.

"I am accepting the responsibility to take whatever steps on behalf of the corporation that are necessary to see that your wages are paid," Mr. Barto wrote. "Unfortunately, payment in full of all payroll is impossible as of this time."

Follow-up letters to employees said workers would be paid in 10 percent bi-weekly increments or 20 percent monthly increments over five months.

At first, that arrangement suited Roxane, who was owed $131, and her parents, said Patricia MacDonald, Roxane's mother.

But Mrs. MacDonald said she started to doubt Mr. Barto's plan after she tried to cash one of Roxane's earlier paychecks and it bounced.

She said Mr. Barto has promised to pay for the bounced check.

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