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After fire, restaurant owner pays idled workers to keep team together

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Workers at a Wendy’s in Duluth are getting paid even though they haven't flipped a burger or punched a clock since mid-January.

The Duluth News Tribune reports that around 30 full and part-time employees of the restaurant were thrown out of work by a fire. On January 13, the Northland's News Center reported that the manager who arrived to open the restaurant noticed smoke in the entryway and called the fire department. More than 20 Duluth firefighters battled the blaze, which left the restaurant shuttered.

The workers have continued to collect paychecks while the space is being repaired. The restaurant is on track to reopen in April. Owner Bob Sullivan feared the long lapse in his payroll could put his employees at risk, so he's making sure they're paid.

“We have a great team of people working for us, and they’ve got bills to pay like everyone else,” he said. “It’s just the right thing to do.”

Jackie Grandi, who has worked at the Duluth Wendy’s for nearly 30 years ago, said employees were worried about the prospect of no paychecks until Sullivan explained his plan.

“People were very relieved,” Grandi said. “Some people were already canceling things, because they thought they were probably going to lose their paychecks.”

Sullivan said he has loss-of-income coverage as part of his business insurance. He told the newspaper he’s not sure how much of the compensation he’s providing will be covered by that policy.

Sullivan said the actual fire caused little structural damage, but smoke and soot from the blaze permeated everything; he is remodeling the space as a result. Sullivan is based in Brainerd. He also owns and operates a Wendy’s restaurant there, plus one in Nisswa and two in Fargo.

A 2007 profile of Sullivan that appeared in the Brainerd Dispatch included the story of how he built his business from the ground up.

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