ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
Three days after its Nov. 28 grand opening, Arlene’s Family Restaurant in Hillsboro apparently closed its doors for good.
Its owners, Karl and Arlene Trudell, have been scarcely seen in Hillsboro since that time. More than a dozen employees say they are owed wages, and numerous local businesses and service providers are also owed money.
An informal survey of those parties suggests they have been left holding the bag for between $7,500 and $10,000.
Arlene’s Family Restaurant opened its doors Nov. 9 and had its official grand opening Nov. 28. It was last open for business Sunday, Nov. 30.
The restaurant was featured in the “Dining Guide” section of the Dec. 3 issue of the Free Press.
On Monday and Tuesday of last week, a message on the door stated the restaurant was closed because of a death in the family.
On Wednesday, the message was changed to read, “We are closed today to restock.” That message remained on that door as of Monday.
On Friday, a three-day eviction notice was posted on the restaurant door, was removed by Saturday morning, but was reposted on Monday.
Employees say they were in contact with Karl Trudell by telephone at least twice last week, and were told to gather at a specified time and place in order to receive their back wages.
In both instances, employees showed up as they had been advised, but the Trudells did not.
For a few hours last Wednesday evening, an expanded message, written by a frustrated employee, appeared on the front windows saying, among other things, “Closed because we can’t pay our employees.”
That message was washed off later that evening by a different employee.
Numerous attempts by the Free Press to contact the Trudells via their cell phone have been unsuccessful.
One of the Trudell’s employees, Adam Engels, had been working at the restaurant part-time since Nov. 11. He said he had taken on the unofficial role as the evening-shift manager in recent weeks.
Engels said the Trudells were more than willing to accommodate his schedule when he was hired.
“They seemed like really nice people at first-clear up until just recently,” he said. “Anytime anybody needed off they said, ‘Yeah, go do it.’ They were really accommodating in that sense.”
Engels said he’s been able to withstand his lost wages because he also works as a para-educator at Hillsboro High School and officiates basketball games.
“I was never worried about me,” he said. “I pay my bills and I have other sources of income. But some people quit other jobs to start here.”
Engels said he was aware of fellow employees who needed money to pay rent, utilities and other pressing obligations. One former employee has a wife who is nine months pregnant and a car in danger of being repossessed.
The Hillsboro Chamber of Commerce has supplied employees with the forms by which they can file for unemployment and be compensated for lost wages through state programs.
Hillsboro Police Chief Dan Kinning said his department has had limited involvement in the situation because issues such as these are civil matters, not criminal matters.
“We’ve been referring people who come to us to the Kansas Department of Human Resources,” he said.
Engels said he wishes now he had acted sooner on indicators that the business was not being operated professionally.
“I guess next time everybody’s going to be a little more careful,” he said. “I was always raised that people are good, and I always try to see the best in everybody.”
Engels said he felt the community had responded to the Trudells in a similar way-wanting to give the the couple every chance to succeed.
“I think everyone was just so excited to have a new business in town,” he said. “I really do think this type of restaurant would work well in Hillsboro if the right people were to open it and were ready to meet the challenges.
“If you’re good honest people and you work hard, people will support you.”
As of Monday the Trudells’ whereabouts were unknown.
“We don’t know where they’re at,” Engels said. “I don’t know if anybody does.”