McCall’s Bar-B-Que & Seafood in Clayton closed after dinner service Tuesday night with employees finding out the next morning that it was the restaurant’s last meal.
Employees said they learned of the closing Wednesday by phone call, internal employee communication and a sign on the door of the building when they showed up for work.
Co-owners Worth Westbrook and Randy McCall, the restaurant’s namesake, made the decision at 9 p.m. Tuesday to close the Clayton restaurant, said Allen McCall, Randy’s son. Allen McCall is the manager of the restaurant’s original location in Goldsboro, which will remain open.
Westbrook said they didn’t give advance notice to employees for fear of liability issues or that a disgruntled employee might react drastically.
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“It was the only way I could see to do it,” Westbrook said of the notice. “Most took it very well. A few are upset about it. That was our fear, that one does something that hurts one of our customers.”
McCall’s opened in Goldsboro in 1989 and expanded to Clayton in 2004. The restaurants employ 100 people altogether, mostly part-time.
The Clayton location is perhaps most remembered for a September 2007 plane crash when a single-engine plan flew into the restaurant about an hour before the lunch rush, killing the pilot. No one inside the restaurant was harmed. It reopened in 2008.
Westbrook said that after nearly three decades, he and McCall had aged out of the restaurant and were looking to retire.
“The biggest problem, we had been in business 28 years – 14 in Clayton,” Westbrook said. “To tell you the truth, we’ve aged out.”
McCall’s served Eastern North Carolina barbecue and fried seafood, stocking a buffet in the restaurant and catering events around Johnston County. It was, by all accounts, a popular Johnston County restaurant, selling up to 40,000 pounds of barbecue a month.
Still, since opening the Clayton location, Westbrook said McCall’s struggled to match the success of its Goldsboro restaurant, adding that it was difficult to manage from afar.
The owners had considered selling the building, selling the restaurant, or turning it into an event space, but ultimately decided to close.
“The main point, no matter what we did, we didn’t have someone to run it,” Westbrook said. “We tried to hire managers, but the Clayton location wasn’t able to live up to the standards we had set in Goldsboro. We didn’t feel we were doing the right job for the public and that the easiest thing would be to bow out.”
But employees and the restaurant’s customers were caught off guard by the closing and the lack of notice.
Moriah Pride, 25, worked as a server for two years at McCall’s and said a notice was sent out just before 9 a.m. Wednesday that the Clayton location would close. Her boyfriend, who works as a fry cook, had already reported to work at 8 a.m., she said, finding a darkened kitchen.
Pride said rumors had circulated that McCall’s would close, but that as workers started to put in their two weeks notice, they were reassured the restaurant would remain open.
“We’ve been thrown to the wolves,” said Pride, who has a newborn. “We figured something was up when they changed the menus and only listed the Goldsboro location.”
Westbrook said employees could draw unemployment and that positions would be offered at the Goldsboro location.
Pride said she understands the reasons behind the closing but that it is no excuse for an abrupt closure.
“I understand that, but you’re old enough to know you’re doing us wrong,” Pride said. “I think they just wanted employees there through the holidays.”
Drew Jackson; 919-829-4707; @jdrewjackson