The owner of the Winter Garden sports grill said he does not know what happened to the money set aside for payroll.
Somehow, $15,000 owed to about 15 employees of the recently closed Blue 42 Sports Grill in Winter Garden has disappeared. Now, as the former employees face unpaid bills, home evictions and car repossessions, everyone is left with the question: What happened?
Blue 42 employees, who all were fired via an unexpected email, were left puzzled after the sports bar closed down because no one had been previously informed. Instead, they were told it was getting a new name and going to be renovated.
“It was a complete surprise,” said Danny Dow, who hosted entertainment activities. “They told me the bar was going to be reopened under a different name. But that’s what everyone was saying, so I guess everyone was told the same story.”
While Dow did not have to suffer from missing paychecks because he was paid immediately after hosting cornhole, others were not so lucky.
“Single moms are getting evicted from their homes here, and cars are getting repo-ed, and yet the investors are too busy rebranding,” said Mindy Hungerford, a former waitress and general manager at Blue 42.
Hungerford, now the owner of an event-planning firm called Panache Events, is upset about the situation — especially because of her role in handling social media for restaurants. She personally is owed $500, which she was banking on to pay for her son’s school tuition.
“I have defended that place for the past two years .... and now I just feel like such a fool,” Hungerford said. “I really I feel like it ruined my credibility because I handle the social media for restaurants. ... It’s just embarrassing.”
Some former employees, such as Lydia Sierra, a head server who worked at Blue 42, are owed much more. Sierra said she is owed more than $1,000 and she does not have a secondary source of income.
“I have two children,” she said. “Everything I made from Blue 42 pays for the utilities for my house and the essentials for my children. I am now going on six weeks without a paycheck, because I have to wait another two weeks to get one from my new job.”
Sierra now works part-time at Michael Ali’s Coal Fired Pizza in Winter Garden. Sierra, who lives with her kids in a two-bedroom apartment, opened her home to Heather Daughtry, another former Blue 42 employee who was evicted from her home in Grapevine Apartments.
Before the last weekend Blue 42 was open, the managers called for a meeting and requested that the employees hang in there and work that last weekend, promising they would get paychecks shortly after.
“We had a meeting on Wednesday right before that night and they told us the owner (Douglas Sellergen) is basically out of money,” Sierra said. “They said that weekend was going to be a big weekend so we needed to work.
And that by Sunday at the latest, if not, Monday, we were all going to see a paycheck, but they needed that weekend to go good and be able to afford paying everybody. And that’s exactly what every single one of us did: We worked our butts off Friday and Saturday.”
Sellergren refused to publicly comment on the specifics of the situation and said he has “been completely out of the loop,” and has “absolutely no idea” what happened to the money he sent Mike Ellis, the general manager. Sellergren, however, did mention he plans to pay everyone eventually, once he gets ahold of the payroll information.
Until then, the former employees will have to rely on finding new jobs and the mercy of a church in Ocoee called Church at Oak level, led by pastor Jason Cooper.
After stumbling upon a post on Facebook from Hungerford, Cooper saw an opportunity for his church to serve the community.
“I’ll be honest with you, at first, I just thought, ‘Oh, well that’s really terrible; I hope something gets done for them,’” he said. “But I believe God would not let me get past it. On my timeline, I kept seeing this post. So I just prayed and said, ‘OK God, I don’t know what you want me to do, but I’ll try. I’ll try and do whatever I can.’”
So Cooper decided to relay the situation to his nearly 300 church members, proposing they try to help the employees. At the time, they were not aware of how many employees had lost their jobs nor how much they were owed collectively.
Once his congregation agreed, he asked Hungerford for a list of the employees and how much each person was owed, with the aim of asking his church for donations to help provide the former Blue 42 employees with paychecks.
“Our goal is to somehow come up with the $13,000,” Cooper said. “That way we can actually pay all of the money that is due to those employees. It’s an effort that our church has committed to keep in front of us until those employees get their paychecks back in full.”
To date, the church has raised a little more than $2,500 for the Blue 42 employees and will be asking for donations every Sunday until it reaches $13,000. To donate, visit churchatoaklevel.org.
Contact Gabby Baquero at [email protected]