LINCOLNTON, N.C. -- Employees who lost their jobs after the North Carolina Department of Revenue closed three restaurants and a video store due to unpaid taxes say they had no warning the businesses were about to be shut down.
A manager at Aunt Bessie’s Home Cookin’ in Lincolnton says employees are owed at least one paycheck.
That manager estimates the number of jobs lost at 150 people, but the number has not been confirmed by the Employment Security Commission.
The Department of Revenue says the owners of Aunt Bessie’s, Tommy’s Drive-In, It’s Grill and Village Video have not paid more than $300,000 in sales and payroll taxes.
The state shut the businesses down last week and the assets will be sold at auction to help pay the tax debt.
According to the state, the businesses are owned by Stephen and Rebecca Gibson of Denver under the name We Manage Incorporated. Phone numbers to the Gibson home appear to have been disconnected.
Aunt Bessie’s is known for good old-fashioned southern cooking. Looking through the window it appears the state already confiscated several items.
Tommy's Drive-In on Highway 321 in Gaston County is known for burgers, fries, hot dogs and chicken. The tables and booths are still there but will be confiscated in the next few days, according to state officials.
Former Aunt Bessie’s waitress Holly Martin says the managers were very strict. If you were late more than once or twice, you were fired, said Martin, who was fired four months ago.
"Because I didn't have a doctor's note,” she said.
With such tight run ships, current and former employees say someone must have known the businesses were about to close and dozens would be out of work just before Christmas.
The longtime Aunt Bessie’s manager says employees couldn't cash payroll checks at banks, and vendors were paid with cash instead of credit. But she had no warning she was about to lose her job. She started crying and hung up the phone.
"Her and her husband depended on this job. This was their livelihood,” Martin said. “This was the only job they had and she’s been here for years.”
Customers say their hearts go out to the employees who lost their jobs.
"It's hard anytime, especially at Christmas,” said loyal customer Linda Williams.
An Aunt Bessie's Facebook post, which appears to be from one of owners says, “We are sorry for the way that this was allowed to be carried out; we did not know this was scheduled to happen. Had we known we would have set a day to close, paid all the employees up to that day....”
Martin and the now-former manager say they don’t buy that apology because someone must have known the businesses were about to be closed.
The state says someone knew because they tried several times to collect the unpaid taxes and confiscation was their last resort.