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Buck's A&W officially reopens
Buck’s A&W opened its doors again as planned Thursday, greeted by piles of snow instead of crowds of happy customers.
“We’ve had a few brave people trickling in,” said owner Rick Gehring, explaining that all had smiles on their faces and were thankful to have the restaurant back in business only four days after closing due to a possible bankruptcy following a sexual harassment lawsuit.
Gehring said the store was empty, so staff spent most of the morning restocking and getting ready for the lunch rush, which looked to be a light one thanks to the significant snowfall.
“We’ll just be open for a few hours (Thursday), for the lunch, then we’ll close about 3 p.m.,” he said, adding that Friday he expects to open “for one shift,” perhaps from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. “And those employees I’ll probably drive in, or the really brave ones will come in.”
Gehring said it was an incredible feeling opening again and having people coming by to shake hands and welcome them back.
“The owner of Spiro’s came down with a pizza for us, and took back food for his employees,” he said.
After being officially closed for only one day, a settlement was reached Monday night between Buck’s A&W of Port Orchard and its creditors that would allow the business to reopen.
“I put ‘Miracle on Mile Hill’ and ‘Port Orchard power’ on my reader board this morning, and people were honking and waving,” Gehring said Tuesday, adding that it was quite dramatic change from a week ago when he announced that the restaurant would be forced into bankruptcy due to mounting legal fees from a sexual harassment lawsuit settled in 2007.
“We will be opening Thursday for another 49 years,” he said, explaining that he was “rocked to the core” by all the community support this past week, which “blew me away.”
He said it felt great to be putting “this chapter behind us,” and that the past five days had been an amazing turnaround from the past five years.
Friend and fellow businessman Steve Krecker described Gehring as “walking around like a zombie” since dealing with the arrest and conviction of former manager James D. Border for sexually assaulting two teenaged female employees, then the subsequent lawsuit filed by the now women in 2004.
“I figured my best contribution might be a fresh set of eyes and a fresh mindset,” he said, explaining that he soon joined forces with Carmen Bloomfield-Martin and Ron Boehme to form a community group offering to raise $150,000 to help bridge the gap between what the business could pay and the amount its creditors were demanding.
On top of the $110,000 Gehring said was awarded to the two women, his business was paying off $300,000 in attorney’s fees, then the most recent judgment ordered the business to pay “reasonable attorney’s fees” for the plaintiffs that totaled $650,000.
Last week when he announced the restaurant would close, Gehring said the business owed $1 million to its creditors, and it would be a “miracle” if his offer was accepted.
A week later, the miracle happened.
By Monday morning, Gehring said significant progress toward a settlement had been made as “their number has come down, and our number has been able to go up.”
By that evening, a settlement had been reached, Krecker said, explaining that Gehring told him the number was “now manageable for us, and we don’t feel it’s right to ask the community for help,” though he wanted to thank the group and the community very much for their support.
“Which is what we did (Tuesday) morning,” Krecker said, explaining that he had a 10-minute slot already scheduled at the Port Orchard Rotary during which he was going to announce the community drive.
Instead, he used it to spread the good news.
“And that’s what we did — it was a very, very happy moment,” he said. “It’s just a great time for everyone, and it’s truly a Christmas miracle.”
Krecker said the events last week has him “feeling really good about (Port Orchard), and that they have compassion for their fellow human beings and really feel that this is a great town.”
Gehring said the settlement so far was an “oral agreement” and the paperwork still needed to be completed, but he felt “confident enough to order food” and plan for a Thursday reopening.