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Restaurant in limbo; takeover rebuffed

News editor

There’s still no official word on whether MacGregor’s, the Marion restaurant closed for fire code violations after just 10 days of operation, will re-open or whether owners Joe and EJ Pickett are calling it quits.

Approached Friday while she was working on a lock of a side door at the restaurant, EJ Pickett declined to say anything about the restaurant’s future. She also did not return numerous subsequent calls this week.

However, Kari Cook, calling herself a former manager of the restaurant, said numerous signs pointed to the Picketts throwing in the towel.

She and her fiancé, Ryan Newell, made an offer to run the restaurant if it reopened.

“I offered her $4,000 a month to lease the building, on top of absorbing all the debt for employees, vendors, and utilities,” Cook said.

But Cook said the Picketts rejected the offer.

“There has been no communication between her and the majority of employees as to what’s going on,” Cook said. “The last three weeks, so much, little by little, has been coming to light. It’s disappointing and devastating.”

In a post to social media she added:

“MacGregor’s doesnt look to be reopening. There are many facets to this, but the troublesome part is the volunteers, investors, and employees that have been burned in this failed endeavor.”

Cook worked with the Picketts as a volunteer this past year as they developed the restaurant, but she said the relationship soured after the opening.

A state fire marshal ordered the restaurant closed after discovering cooking appliances weren’t vented to the outdoors and a fire suppression system had not been installed.

In an interview after the restaurant closed, EJ Pickett said those items were first on the list to complete after cash started flowing in. At the time, she suggested that health, alcohol, and fire inspections were triggered by reports from individuals who did not want the restaurant to succeed.

Cook said the restaurant had been plagued by facility issues since opening Chingawassa Days weekend.

“We spent the first week operating with extension cords for everything because we had no working outlets in the front house,” Cook said. “The first night we were open they were washing dishes in tubs out in the parking lot. There was no dishwasher. There was no running water at the bar. There was no hot water in the bathroom, so you couldn’t wash your hands. We had to use hand sanitizer.”

Cook contends that Pickett hasn’t paid most of the employees.

“I did the time cards; I added up all their time cards,” Cook said. “She was simply to write and sign checks to pass to employees. A small handful of people received their first check. Many employees never received checks.”

According to public records, when the Picketts purchased the building at Main and 3rd Sts. in February 2016, they also received two loans totaling $60,000 from South Central Kansas Economic Development District, a $15,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture loan, and a progressive loan of $40,000 from the Marion e-Communities fund that was disbursed as specified milestones were reached.

Marion’s economic development director, Randy Collett, said the e-Community program funded by the sale of tax credits, and that the Picketts did not get any loans from the city.

He also said Tuesday that he didn’t know whether MacGregor’s was closing.

“I have had no communication from her about the status of the restaurant whatsoever,” he said.

Cook alleged that the Picketts intend to auction contents of the building. She posted a picture online that she claimed was restaurant equipment with an auction house sticker affixed.

“They’ve already taken all the liquor out of there,” Cook said. “It’s all been removed. All the food items have been removed. It’s pretty much been gone through. Anything brought into that building other than the drywall and flooring will be gone; it’s all going up for auction.”

Checks through Tuesday of three websites for restaurant equipment auction businesses, including the one named on the sticker, did not reveal any upcoming restaurant auctions scheduled for Marion.

Cook said she offered to lease and run the restaurant because she thought she could turn a profit based on cash flows while it was open. She did say that hours, staffing, and menu items would have to be adjusted.

However, Cook is convinced the restaurant is closed for good.

“It never got the chance to see if the community does or does not support it,” she said.

Last modified July 6, 2017

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