MADISON, Ala. (WHNT) - Employees are speaking out following last week's closure of Madison's favorite BBQ joint. Thomas Pit Bar-B-Q closed last Thursday to make way for Rick's BBQ next year - but not if the Thomas Pit faithful can help it.
A sign on the door last week read ‘Closed until further notice,’ citing new ownership. It was obvious employees were in a bit of a stupor. They told us off camera they were instructed to close the restaurant at 4p.m. Thursday. They say Thomas Pit has been bought by Rick’s BBQ.
Rick’s has locations in Muscle Shoals, Florence and throughout southern Tennessee. We were told by employees the building would be razed and that construction on a new Rick's restaurant would take 8 to 10 months.
"Yeah it hurt, it really hurts because we're all family, you know -- not just family but we had family members working there and all the other employees who were family too," says Rita Larman who has worked at Thomas Pit for 36 years.
Larman say the era of barbeque as Madison knows it is over. Larman says when the hammer fell late last week, it was a shock to everyone. She said there had been whispers for months Thomas Pit was to be sold, but employees never thought they'd have such short notice. Larman says 2 months ago salaries at the restaurant saw a whopping blow.
Larman and others were told to apply at the future Rick's location, but she says that's just not good enough. She says in the span of 24 hours employees were told by owner Glenn Garcia the restaurant would be demolished and that they needed to apply for unemployment. After the Columbus Day holiday, Larman says she'll hot the job search hard. All she has to fall back on is a degree in criminal justice.
"We all have bills to pay -- house payments, car payments -- you know, it's just ridiculous to not have known. As much as we've put into the restaurant and to just find out at the last-minute like that what was going on."
Pam Hailey, who says her family has loved Thomas Pit for 5 generations, started a 'Save Thomas Pit BBQ' page on Facebook last Friday.
Monday afternoon the page had more than 3,000 likes. Hailey also started a change.org petition which boasts nearly 400 signatures. She has also started a GoFundMe account to benefit the Thomas Pit crew. Monday afternoon the account had garnered $350 in donations.
In the face of personal and financial uncertainty, many Thomas Pit employees are still thinking about their loyal and now confused patrons.
"I wish we could have known so the customers could have come and at least got their last Thomas Pit meal, but they didn't know either," Larman regrets.