DULUTH — Fire can destroy property, but it can’t touch these paychecks.
A Jan. 13 fire forced a Wendy’s in Duluth to close, temporarily putting the restaurant’s 30-some employees out of work. Yet full-time and part-time staff members alike have continued to collect their accustomed paychecks in the aftermath, while repairs continue.
Owner Bob Sullivan of Brainerd hopes to reopen the restaurant by mid-April and worried that any lapse in his payroll during the interim could put valued employees at risk.
“We have a great team of people working for us, and they’ve got bills to pay like everyone else. We want to do our best to keep as many of them as we can,” he said. “It’s just the right thing to do.”
Jackie Grandi, the restaurant’s general manager, who has worked at the Duluth Wendy’s since it opened nearly 30 years ago, said it would have been a challenge to restart the restaurant with new staff members who required extensive training.
“Having experienced people like we do definitely makes my job much easier,” she said. “A lot of people think it’s so easy to work in a restaurant. They think we just take orders and flip burgers. But there are a lot of things involved to ensure a restaurant like ours runs well.”
Grandi said she and other employees of the restaurant were understandably concerned by the prospect of no paychecks with Wendy’s shutdown in the wake of the fire.
Sullivan called an all-employee meeting a few days after the fire to update people on the status of the restaurant and to inform staff of his plans to continue paying them until the business could reopen.
“A lot of people were very relieved,” Grandi recalled. “Some people were already canceling things, because they thought they were probably going to lose their paychecks.”
Sullivan said he has loss-of-income coverage as part of his business insurance policy, but he’s not yet sure how much of the compensation he’s providing to staff during the rebuild will be covered.
The exact cause of the fire remains a mystery, but Sullivan said it started early on the morning of Jan. 13 near a drive-thru window. He said the fire caused little structural damage but thick smoke and soot from the blaze permeated everything. The interior of the building had to be gutted.
Sullivan has seized on the setback as an opportunity to remodel the restaurant. While he’s still waiting for firm figures, Sullivan said he’s probably looking at about $200,000 to redo the building’s interior plus an investment of about equal size to re-equip the restaurant, for a total bill that could top $400,000.
In addition to his restaurant in Duluth, Sullivan also owns and operates a Wendy’s in Brainerd, Nisswa and two more in Fargo.