MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Employees who work for a small restaurant chain are out of a job right now, and they’re confused about what happened to an emergency fund meant for them.
Mason Whitman said he enjoyed the majority of his one year working at Next Door American Eatery, one of the flagship restaurants at Crosstown Concourse. In that short time, he rose through the ranks from server to head chef.
“It was a really uniquely encouraging atmosphere to work in,” Whitman said. “I never dreaded a single day of work.”
But now, the crowds are gone, and he said the owners, which include Kimbal Musk, the billionaire brother of Elon Musk, announced they would temporarily close in mid-March when the coronavirus outbreak started.
Less than a week later, they closed indefinitely and let go of roughly 25 employees, including Whitman.
“My immediate reaction was not, ‘They did us wrong,'” he said. “It was more, ‘I guess this is just what happens.'”
They even received an email from Kimbal Musk himself, saying he was sorry and telling them who to contact for “questions on final pay or benefits.”
But the email didn’t mention the “Family Fund.”
“It was designed to aid individual employees during times of hardship or injury,” Whitman said. “The only figures I’ve heard have been between 50 cents and $2 per week. You could select an amount from your check to be donated into that fund every week.”
He said he never paid into it, but he knows others who did, including other managers at the Memphis location.
“It is worth figuring out how much money was in the Family Fund and whether or not anyone in the wake of this outbreak received any of these funds,” Whitman said.
WREG contacted Next Door Eatery to ask those questions. Kimbal Musk responded by saying we’d be invited to an informational Facebook Live when it became available.
The Huffington Post reported Next Door iced out its now-former employees, saying those who were let go were no longer eligible for the Family Fund.
To Whitman, that’s not fair.
“There’s no reason for that fund to not be empty now,” he said. “You’ve just lost employees — some are struggling financially.”
We’ll keep you updated if the restaurant responds.