HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - Employees of two local Ryan's restaurants said they woke up to unemployment Sunday morning as the locations closed their doors with no prior notice.
"We've all been so loyal to that company for years and we feel like we've just been done really dirty," said Amber Lloyd, a Ryan's waitress.
Both Lloyd and Dominique Willis, a fellow waitress, said business went on as usual Saturday at Ryan's in Conway.
"We had a great night," Lloyd said. "We closed down the store. We had prep ready for the morning. We cleaned it up like we always do."
Then, the next morning, Lloyd and Willis found out through phone calls and voicemails they would never serve again at the restaurant they've both worked at for a decade.
"I got a phone call early in the morning when I was getting ready for work that you can't come to work no more," Willis said. "I was like, 'What's wrong?' She was like, 'Our building is locked up. You don't have a job no more.' My heart dropped."
They said they got the news from other coworkers, not managers. They said they don't believe managers knew about the closures either.
Although some Ryan's restaurants had closed last month, they thought they were safe.
"They just started hiring more people, so why would we assume that we were going to get shut down if we just took on more help?" Willis said.
Losing their jobs will take an obvious toll on their bank accounts. Willis and Lloyd said they haven't received their last paychecks yet.
"I have kids to feed. I have bills. It wasn't right and it wasn't fair to none of us," Willis said.
"I'm a single mother," Lloyd said. "I'm alone and I relied on that job for nine years."
However, Willis and Lloyd said they're also heartbroken because the restaurant had become another home to them.
"They ripped apart a family too. That's been our family for years," Willis said. "It's like if we're family, why didn't you treat us like family and come to us ahead of time and let us know that we were soon going to be out of a job?"
Both Willis and Lloyd said managers indirectly told them their unemployment benefits could be affected by talking to the news. They said they wanted to get the truth out to the public anyway, because they feel they've been betrayed and treated unfairly.
Food Management Partners, a parent company of Ryan's, does not have a statement about these closures in particular, but a statement was released Monday afternoon saying Buffets, LLC is filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy to restructure debts and liabilities and strengthen operations by "closing certain weaker restaurants and recapitalize its business."
The release goes on to say Food Management Partners acquired Buffets, LLC in a merger in August 205, but certain liabilities weren't disclosed during negotiations.
Willis and Lloyd said they've heard of more than 45 Ryan's locations shutting down across the country Sunday, including the locations in Conway and Surfside Beach.
"If this just happened in one store, just imagine the devastation from them closing down over 80 stores in the past two months," Lloyd said. "How many people are going through this same thing?"
Jennifer Demps, a server at a former Ryan's location in Georgetown, said the restaurant was shut down several years ago and employees weren't notified in that case either.
Ryan's in North Myrtle Beach remains open as of Monday.
South Carolina doesn't have any specific laws regarding notifying employees of layoffs, but the U.S. Department of Labor requires a 60-day written notice of a site closure for employers with more than 100 employees as part of the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act.
The employer can try to get an exception by proving unforeseeable business circumstances caused the closing.
Katherine Graham, CEO and president of the Better Business Bureau of Coastal Carolina, said former employees need to get in touch with the Department of Labor. She said customers should use any gift certificates at the Ryan's in North Myrtle Beach as soon as possible.
"We want strong, healthy businesses in our marketplace and we thought that was one of them and we were obviously wrong," Gram said. "Let's hope someone strong and healthy moves in there."