Local diner employees open up restaurant to make up money - WNEM TV 5

Local diner employees open up restaurant to make up the money they were stiffed

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OTISVILLE, MI (WNEM) -

When you walk into Otisville's Down Home Diner, it's business as usual, kind of. On Wednesday night, customers enjoyed their home-cooked meals, all while the employees inside weren't even on the clock.

On Tuesday morning, the owner told his staff the diner is shutting down, and they say he didn't give them their paychecks that were due. A sign out front is the staff's final plea for help. The sign reads, "Owner skipped town. Staff working for wages due. We are open." 

The hard-working staff here doesn't get rich from what they do, and they all say they depend on the money that comes in.

"Check by check, week by week, people depend on their tips," Janie Lehr, the restaurant's general manager, explained. 

And they say the owner stiffing them on their paychecks makes this situation even more catastrophic.

"Everyone here is owed a month's pay, and he locked the doors the morning of payroll," said employee Tonya Frank.

"He said, 'I don't have the money.' I said, 'What, what are we going to do?'" explained Lehr.

Lehr said there was only one thing to do. She got permission to keep the doors open through the end of the week, and for the next two or three days, they're cooking up the food that's left and hoping to bring in enough money to pay the workers what they're owed.

"This is the only way we're going to get paid. I have people who work here who have children, they have rent, there's no way," said Lehr.

Word of what happened spread quickly through the village of Otisville.

"When I walked into the door today, I couldn't believe it, I couldn't believe it," said regular customer Ed MacLachlan.

One man, who didn't want to be identified, choked up as he handed his server a $100 bill for a $16 check. He told her to keep the change.

"We're going to give them good service until the doors lock," said Frank.

"It's very upsetting. But we'll do it, we'll do it. We're a team," said Lehr.

On Tuesday night, TV5 called the owner of the Down Home Diner, Paul Williams, to get his side of the story. He declined comment.

Staff at the restaurant say this Friday, in what could be the final day of the business, they plan to have an all-you-can-eat fish fry. Lehr said this is their big moneymaker. They hope on Friday they're able to recoup the money that's owed to them so they can pay their bills.

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