Workers at an Applebee's in Lawrence, Kansas resigned en masse after reading a leaked email from a franchisee executive.
Wayne Pankratz—an executive at Apple Central LLC which owns and operates several Applebee's franchises—sent an email to other executives at the franchise group.
The email was subsequently shared on Twitter.
In the email, Pankratz cited rising gas prices and inflation as an opportunity to "[hire] employees in at a lower wage."
"Most of our employee base and potential employee base live paycheck to paycheck."
“Any increase in gas prices cuts into their disposable income."
"As inflation continues to climb and gas prices continue to go up, that means more hours employees will need to work to maintain their current level of living."
“The labor market is about to turn in our favor."
The email eventually found its way to Jake Holcomb, a manager at the Lawrence restaurant.
Holcomb immediately quit upon reading the email, but he did not leave quietly.
Before leaving the restaurant, Holcomb printed out multiple copies of the email and circulated them throughout the restaurant for all his co-workers as well as the customers to see.
Four more managers and 10 other workers followed Halcomb out the door, either quitting on the spot or giving their notice.
For many of these employees, the insensitive content of the email was the justification they needed to leave what they felt was already a less than wonderful work environment.
As 22-year-old bartender Adrian Kelley told Vice, the majority of the hardworking staff at the Lawrence location were "underpaid, overworked, and mistreated".
'This was kind of a straw that broke the camel’s back situation where everyone was feeling unappreciated [and] we were understaffed."
“And then this email was so atrocious that it kind of just tipped everyone over the edge.”
23- year-old manager Jenna Willis was so incensed by the email she even gave the staff who came to open the restaurant the morning after the email circulated the option to work or not.
"Oh my gosh, I was so mad.”
“I let the staff that showed up to open that morning read it, and they were livid."
"So I told them if we wanted to make money, we would open, but I didn’t really feel like we should at that point."
“How can we continue to work for a company that doesn’t care about us?”
Willis also quit and the restaurant was forced to close for several hours that day.
The Lawrence location had already been facing an uphill battle behind the scenes, with several employees leaving for more stable work as a result of the pandemic.
Prior to the pandemic, Willis said servers took home roughly $150 a night, but recently, the average amount most servers have been taking home nightly has been closer to $60.
Willis also revealed to Vice she didn't find Pankratz's email particularly surprising, following an in-person interview she had with him regarding a promotion.
“That man is something else himself."
“He would ask me a question and then he wouldn’t even give me an opportunity to actually answer it before he was already answering it and explaining it to me, as if I didn’t understand it from the beginning.”
It wasn't just the workers at the Lawrence Applebees who were horrified by the email.
As the email circulated on social media, Twitter users called out Pankratz and expressed sympathy for the workers.
Many made calls to boycott Applebees.
Applebees, as well as American Franchise Brands (AFC) which owns the Lawrence Restaurant, initially made an effort to distance themselves from Pankratz's email.
However, Scott Fischer, a spokesperson for AFC as well as Apple Central LLC, later denounced the email calling it "embarrassing" and claiming it was not reflective of the company's "policies or culture."
He also made a point to say Pankratz had no authority to make such a decision regarding pay.
"He doesn’t have the authority to create policy for our company for the brand or anything. ... Maybe he wrote it in the middle of the night. I don’t know."
But as reported by Vice, the timestamp of the email was 3:52pm local time.
Kevin Carroll, Applebee’s chief operations officer, later confirmed to Vice in a statement that Pankratz had been "terminated" and his email was “the opinion of an individual, not Applebee’s.”
"Our team members are the lifeblood of our restaurants, and our franchisees are always looking to reward and incentivize team members, new and current, to remain within the Applebee’s family."