CULLMAN, Ala. – The Rally’s in Cullman was closed Saturday afternoon without warning and the decision had left its 11 employees confused, hurt and struggling to make ends meet. Employees Storm Bryant, Thomas Williams and Jenny Bryant sat down Wednesday morning to explain their feelings and side of the events.
The Cullman Rally’s is owned by Pandya Burgers of Alabama, LLC, based out of Anniston. Calls to their listed number have not been returned. A call to Rally’s corporate office was to be returned within two-hours but still has yet to be returned.
The staff of Cullman’s Rally’s first received the tragic news in February of the passing of Charlie Estep, the beloved manager from Cullman Rally’s promoted to District Manager last year. The staff was excited to have Charlie “on the other side” as he tried to make Cullman a priority. The sudden passing of Estep was devastating and left the staff concerned about the store’s future.
On Saturday, Storm received a call from her manager, Ann, to come into work for an emergency meeting. Storm explained, “I was very nervous. They were already turning customers away and not taking orders. I thought, ‘that’s weird!’ Normally, even if we have a meeting in the middle of the day, they’ll still take orders because that’s how we make our money.”
The employees were advised in that meeting to begin filing for unemployment compensation but also said the closing was temporary. Storm was confused by what she was told saying, “I feel like if it was (temporary), they wouldn’t have told us to file for unemployment that takes 3 weeks to start.”
All three employees are upset about staff not receiving paychecks. As of today they are a pay now, they haven’t been paid for at least 3 weeks of work. One employee is stranded in Virginia as she was depending on her scheduled direct deposit in order to return home.
Storm added, “I feel like if they really were planning on re-opening and hiring us back, they would be more worried about making sure we got paid on time, worried about our safety or our peace of mind right now but they are not. We’ve been getting paid late a lot but we don’t have anyone to contact now. We’ve just been left out in the pasture.”
It is the understanding of the staff, although not confirmed through Rally’s, that the current franchise owners lost their franchise rights after not fulfilling promised upgrades to each location within the 18 months since Pandya bought the franchise. Storm said, “I don’t know what their reasoning is but I’d like to know why we got shut down because I know I tried my hardest every day I was in there. I was always polite to our customers. I always went above and beyond. I tried at least to do my job the best that I could.To just get shut down like that was really just a slap in the face.”
According to Jenny, the Cullman Rally’s was in the top 10 of Rally’s/Checkers locations last year. This adds to their confusion as to how a high performance store could be shutdown. She said, “we were in the top 10. That’s a big deal. Our manager even won a cruise because of it.”
Now, the employees are struggling with bills. No pay and abrupt unemployment has turned their lives upside down. Some can no longer afford childcare costs, Thomas’s was unable to make his car insurance payment on Tuesday and Storm fears her car could be repossessed.
“Our biggest bonus was each other and now they tried to take that from us too,” Thomas said. Jenny added, “we helped each other and we still are. We are a family and always did what we could to help when another needed help between paychecks or was just having a bad day.”
The pain of losing Charlie made their bond even stronger. Storm recalled, “when he passed, we wondered if the store would ever be the same. We promised we would work hard to keep the store open for Charlie. It was a rallying event for us. We wanted to excel in his honor.” Thomas added, “when Charlie was in charge, we didn’t just survive we thrived.”
The group would love to get back to work. They do wish they could continue to work together and for someone that they said, “appreciates us.” There is a go-fund me account opened by Thomas to assist him and his 10 coworkers as they can get paid and find employment.