The Rapidian

Former Perkins employees stay strong, re-enter the working world

Grand Rapids workers lose jobs, some move on to better things while others still struggle with what comes next
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Signs explaining the closing of all West Michigan locations were posted immediately after workers were told their jobs were gone

Signs explaining the closing of all West Michigan locations were posted immediately after workers were told their jobs were gone /Ben Ruehrdanz

Days after closing all Perkins signs were removed, and now buildings are up for new leases.

Days after closing all Perkins signs were removed, and now buildings are up for new leases. /Becky Olee

On June 12, 2011 word broke that all seven West Michigan locations of Perkins Restaurant and Bakery were closed for good. The following morning the news of the entire company filing for bankruptcy left both customers and former employees reeling from the information. The employees of the Alpine Avenue location released a statement soon after the closing. “We are a strong group of individuals that will stare back into the face of corporate greed, even when it knocks us down, and pick ourselves back up and start again.” Now, three weeks later, life after Perkins has affected different employees in vastly different ways.

A general manager of one location was offered and later accepted a position in another state within the Perkins Corporation. He says his other options were limited. “I will be starting all over with my family, and now I have to sell my house and move. I’m excited about the job itself and the possibility of a promotion. It’s a better opportunity than anything I found in Michigan,” stated Byron Lewis. Lewis will be moving to Pennsylvania in the middle of July while his wife and four kids stay in Michigan to sell their house. While starting his new position, Lewis will also need to find a new home and schools for his family.

For one 41-year-old server, Perkins' closing helped her restore an old dream. “I have always wanted to be a translator and have always wanted to go back to school but I was always afraid of quitting,” said Nancy Bergsma. A few days after losing her job, Bergsma met with a counselor at Grand Rapids Community College to discuss enrolling and pursuing a degree: “Now I have to decide what to do with my life and now I have all this time off, I better do what I’ve always wanted to do.”

For others, the unemployment line has not been so forgiving. A few former employees were denied unemployment, while others could not afford to support a family on the fractured income. April Prentice, a single mother of a 3-year-old, applied for and was offered a job two days after the closing stating, “Once reality set in, being a single mom with many bills to pay, I reached my breaking point.”

Perkins' closing also affected recent college graduates who, in this economy, resorted to waiting tables until they landed a career. “I’m thinking optimisticly. It’s an opportunity to get out of the restaurant business and do something else,” said Antonio Fligger, a May 2011 graduate from Aquinas College with a degree in Music who worked at the Cascade location.

While some former employees have moved on, taking jobs out of necessity or embarking on a new path towards a different career, there are still those who are scraping by on unemployment, which can be a 40-50% decrease in income. 2,500 employees lost their jobs that Sunday across the nation. Here in Michigan, as life goes on, the former employees of Michigan find their footing in the working world. They remember what Perkins meant to them in a released statement: “While we will absolutely miss the security that we thought this job was providing; what we will miss more than anything is the feeling of family it provided.” 

 

Disclosure: The author in this article was a former employee of Perkins Restaurant and Bakery in West Michigan

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