Don Pablo’s restaurant in Battle Creek closes without warning

Posted at 5:13 PM, Oct 04, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-04 20:12:52-04

BATTLE CREEK, Mich. — Charles Norton left Don Pablo’s on Sunday after a long shift. He said good-bye to his co-workers and walked out, expecting to return on Tuesday. But on Monday, everything changed.

“I get a call from a co-worker at 9:30 in the morning saying ‘Charlie they just shut us down. Did you know about this?'” said Norton during an interview. “I said ‘No.’ So being the person I am I drove straight up there and talked to my kitchen manager and he goes ‘Yes Charlie it’s true. They shut us down.’”

Norton was shocked, he said. He’d worked there for three years, coming in six days a week. He was told that the corporate offices showed up unannounced, closed their location and locked the doors.

“Nobody knew it was coming,” said Norton. “I know I didn’t.”

Other employees said they weren't aware too. Some didn’t know until they came to work that morning and tried to open the doors but couldn’t. Others found out through the grapevine.

“After I heard about it yesterday I spent a while crying,” said Samuel Cabras who’d been there since April. “I have a family to support. There’s many other people that have a family to support.”

Cabras said he’s knows of a few employees who were the main breadwinner in their homes. Some even just had babies. Now, everyone’s looking for a job.

“Right now we’re all in the state of mind where we’re just all in shock,” said Cabras. “We’re just like why did this happen. You know, how come we weren't given a warning?”

Debbi Burns asked the same question. She’d work there eight years and had a great reputation. She got a lot of requests from patrons for her service. Now, all she does is cry.

“I loved my customers,” said Burns during an interview outside the locked doors at Don Pablo’s. “They’re my life. My kids, my customers, my grand babies. But I love working here and it’s done.”

Burns stopped by the restaurant to pick up unemployment papers Tuesday afternoon. They were left in a silver serving platter on a bench next to the doors. She ran into other employees who were doing the same thing.

“I called this morning and they told me that they hadn’t filed anything and everybody’s getting denied,” said Burns about her phone call with the unemployment agency. “Now I have to go through the process again.”

Burns said the shutdown of the Battle Creek location was the latest in a string of closings nationwide. She said the parent company, Rita Restaurant Corp., closed two other restaurants in two weeks and they filed for bankruptcy. FOX 17 reached out to the company several times for a comment and have yet to hear back.

“When corporation’s downsize and cut jobs, it affects people,” said Norton. “All they see is numbers. They don’t see the lives that are affected.”

Norton said after Monday's closing the managers took the remaining food in the restaurant to a local homeless shelter. It's the least they could do. Don Pablo’s was a lot of people's main source of income, including his own. But now he’s looking for a new job. It's another blow after already losing his sister in a tragic car accident in January.

“My sister was killed earlier this year and my bosses were completely understanding,” said Norton. “They gave me as much time off as I needed. And it’s just one thing after another. But that's how life goes. You gotta stay positive.”