COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) - Some employees say there was no warning before Denny's restaurants started to close across Colorado Springs Monday night.
At one location up the road from Chapel Hills Mall, cooks were still making orders when a woman came in and told everyone to leave.
Customers were forced to leave half-eaten plates behind as they were shooed out.
"All of us are out of jobs now," said Bradley Mauldin, an employee at the location.
A source close to the situation contacted 11 News earlier in the evening and said the state was seizing the restaurants in the Colorado Springs market, including locations in Fountain and Woodland Park.
Those restaurants are all franchised by the same man, Abe Imani, previously the subject of an 11 Call For Action investigation after employees accused him of not paying them. Imani told 11 News it was a problem with his payroll company.
The Colorado Department of Revenue says the owner owes nearly $200,000 in back taxes and must pay the state in the next 10 days -- or the properties go up for auction.
Denny's corporate office released a statement Wednesday regarding the closures:
"We are sorry that our franchisee has closed the Colorado Springs, Burlington, Fountain and Woodland Park locations. As franchisor, we have gone to great lengths in helping the franchisee keep these restaurants open, but unfortunately he has closed them. We appreciate our dedicated team members and the patronage of the many guests that have dined at these locations over the years. We will be evaluating potential opportunities to reopen in the market in the near future and in the meantime, welcome area residents and visitors to enjoy our diner favorites at our 15 Denver area locations. Denver area franchisees are interested in offering opportunities to impacted employees.”
Upper management went store by store Monday night, shuttering each location. Hundreds of employees are now without jobs.
"The girls who locked it up -- on my way out they were like, 'Take a cup, cup, a Denny's cup, take a cup, have some candy pralines. What is that going to do for me?" asked employee Brandon Williams, visibly shaken while talking to 11 News.
"There was no timeline, there was no warning, there was no heads up," Mauldin said. "We were just inside working, doing our job, taking care of the customers -- next thing you know, we get a phone call that tells us we're shut down, we have to hold the door, we have to tell people not to come in."
Some say they still haven't been paid by Imani.
"I worked Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Today was my first day off in 12 days. ... At least pay us what we deserve," Victoria Mullen said.
As upper management locked up the Chapel Hills location Monday night, employees say they left food scattered all over the front steps.
"Not only unprofessional, but gave us a slap in the face by leaving some produce and canned goods on the front steps for us to eat. Are you kidding me?" Mauldin said.
"Give us our money -- we don't care about canned jalapenos."
For Williams, his job at Denny's was a chance to get out of a rough financial patch.
"This was good for us -- or at least we thought it was."
Businesses in the area say they want to help the displaced workers. 11 News received calls Tuesday from Old Chicago and Johnny Nolon's Casino in Cripple Creek, both saying they have openings if the former Denny's employees wanted to apply.
"We have open positions, we have the ability to bring those people on. We will do priority interviews for any Denny's employee," said Kevi Westbay, the bar manager at Old Chicago.
Representatives from each of the Colorado Springs locations will be at the Academy and Austin Bluffs Old Chicago restaurants from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday.
Pikes Peak Workforce Center says it will offer free assistance to dislocated Denny's workers. Employees can call 719-499-0642.
Other job opportunities can be found: here.
Attorney Michael Waters told 11 News it is against the law for employers not to pay its employees, and those still waiting for their paychecks should file a claim at the courthouse.
"You go to the courthouse, room 105, get the forms to fill out. It's a very simple form, you just state, 'I'm owed this much in wages.' Don't exaggerate it, be accurate. Then you gotta get a process server to serve that complaint on the employer."
Waters said employees need to make sure to keep all their pay stubs.
"Don't just throw those away, because if you have to go to court later on to prove how much your owed you can use those prior pay stubs to prove how much you should've been paid."
11 News called Imani early Tuesday morning but he did not answer.