Customers kicked out as Marie Callender's shuts down

Customers kicked out as Marie Callender's shuts down
SEATTLE -- The restaurant best known for serving warm pies to loyal customers has stunned some with a move they see as flat-out cold.

Three Marie Callender's restaurants across Washington shut down abruptly this weekend, leaving more than 100 people without jobs. Witnesses say some customers were in the middle of meals on Sunday afternoon when they were told to get up and leave the restaurant.

"I thought it was a big joke, because I was like, 'I still have people in the restaurant,' and they were like, 'they need to leave,'" said Mapp Chhim, who up until Sunday served as a manager at the Northgate Marie Callender's location.

"There was a party of 25 in the back room. It was somebody's birthday party, and I feel so bad that we like ruined the celebration."

Chhim said about 50 people worked at the Northgate location, in addition to about 50 employees in Federal Way and several dozen more in Spokane. Together, the restaurant's closing leaves more than 100 people without a job in Washington state.

"Some of them have two kids and somehow they have to find alternative income to keep living. It's a big shock," he added. "I love working here. I love the people I work with."

Reached Sunday evening, corporate spokeswoman Vivian Brooks confirmed the restaurants' closings but wouldn't say why the decision was made so abruptly.

"This was a very difficult decision to make. We certainly apologize to any guests in the restaurant," Brooks said. "There are certainly a variety of factors that go into the decision-making process. I can't go into that specifically. It is a well thought-out but a very difficult decision."

On Monday morning, the restaurant chain's parent company, Perkins & Marie Callender's Inc., announced that it had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Documents filed Monday with the United States Bankruptcy Court in Delaware indicated the company could not afford to build new restaurants and upgrade existing ones, so it lost traffic to better funded restaurant competitors.

The news stunned loyal customers like Henry Baker of Edmonds, who came to the Northgate location on Sunday to find the doors locked and a sign telling customers the restaurant had closed.

"They're closing all the Marie Callender's? That's terrible," he said.

Nora Pugh, who delivers food for online company 2Go Services, said she had just filed an order for a customer and came to pick it up when she found the restaurant locked.

"It's kind of a big surprise. I've been doing this work for about two, three years, and the smaller restaurants we see it happen to but the big chains like this, not so often," she said.

"It's a big shock. A lot of people [were] crying," Chimm added. "I [had to] gather 15 of my employees and let them know, 'hey I'm sorry guys, but tomorrow, you don't have a job.'"

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.