The Golden Corral Buffet & Grill’s pulse flat lined.
Customers and 48 employees say they were blindsided by the local restaurant’s Monday closure.
Notes taped to entrance doors stood as the only notice for the community.
After long Mother’s Day shifts, ownership informed employees of a 9 a.m. meeting the following day.
That gathering broke the negative news.
Employees received a letter of recommendation for future employers, separation notices and final checks.
Baldwin High School alumnus Leroy Hill, former NFL linebacker, was one of three professional football owners that took over the local establishment as of April 7, 2011.
James Butler and Tye Hill were the other partners.
According to the eatery’s corporate office, Butler owned the Milledgeville franchise under YBE Milledgeville LLC.
Together with Leroy and Tye Hill under the YBE umbrella, the group also owns Golden Corrals in Oxford, Ala. and Centerville, Ga.
The Providence Group Professional Sports and Entertainment was involved in the Milledgeville restaurant’s management after the 2011 purchase until about a year ago when the players took control.
“I don’t think the restaurant business is a hard business. You just have to do it the right way,” Butler said. “Milledgeville just wasn’t getting the sales that were needed. Obviously we are grateful for the community coming out to support us over the years. We did our best to provide the best services and are appreciative of what Milledgeville has done for us.”
The owner said the “family of workers did an excellent job of running and operating the store.”
“When people lose their jobs, that wasn’t an easy decision. We wish them all the best in the future,” Butler said Friday.
Dawn Bloodworth, a Golden Corral server for five years, said the revenue and customer base dropped significantly the last few years.
Ownership told employees they were losing $250,000 per year, she said.
Price hikes and management changes didn’t help, according to Bloodworth.
“We had six different general managers in three years,” she said.
The latest manager quit last Friday.
“He was friends with Leroy Hill,” Bloodworth said. “That was a little unnerving. It’s like OK. What’s about to happen now?”
Staff discovered there wasn’t a manager Monday when the business closed.
The former server said she was shocked the restaurant shut down that quickly.
“We had a really busy Mother’s Day on Sunday. (The employees) felt like, well we all worked our butts off for them, they made the money and after today, we don’t get to make any money,” Bloodworth said.
All three owners were present during the last open Sunday.
“Nobody said anything Sunday when we were all questioning them if they were going to shut us down,” Bloodworth said.
Audrey Hoppe worked as a baker for the last two months. She said Golden Corral was a great place, and customer volume was high.
“Everybody was really nice. I got right into the swing of things,” Hoppe said. “I loved working at Golden Corral. I’m really upset that it shut down. We were surprised they said they were losing money.”
Hoppe said most thought the restaurant would get some new managers, not close its doors.
“Golden Corral is such a big place here. We didn’t think we’d shut down right after Mother’s Day because we still had inventory,” she said. “They let us go with a week’s severance pay. It put me out of my main job. Now I have to work just a part-time job.”
Hoppe said the pay didn’t really take care of the employees.
“You could say a lot of people were very mad about what they got including myself,” the former Golden Corral baker said.
For 18 years, Golden Corral operated at 1913 N. Columbia St.
Several citizens reacted to the closure on the Union-Recorder Facebook page when the news broke.
Most comments expressed concern for the now jobless employees.
“It was my understanding that the employees didn’t know a closure was coming,” Melanie Arnold posted.
Heather Garner-Hodges said during a Saturday visit her server was “talking about her schedule for the week.”
Some will miss the buffet option, while others’ Facebook comments didn’t provide glowing reviews.
Tray Roberson said Golden Corral stayed packed with patrons and hopes someone will re-open the business.
Debbie Segura said the food just wasn’t that great anymore.
“There is such a thing called pricing yourself out of business,” Charles Johnson posted earlier this week.
When Donald Bolston and his family visit Milledgeville, the buffet was the top choice, he posted.
“I hope it’s open again when we visit,” he said.