HEMPFIELD TOWNSHIP – With its neon sign stripped from the exterior wall and the freestanding street sign covered with a thin layer of white base paint, the former Hempfield Township Perkins restaurant looked closed for business from the perspective of those passing by along Hadley Road.
But inside it was business as usual for the early afternoon lunch crowd and restaurant employees who are getting accustomed to new ownership under the restaurant’s new name – Mama Jane’s Eatery.
Paula Webster of Mercer bought the business after months of legal battles forced Perkins’ Hermitage and Grove City locations to shut down late last month. A federal bankruptcy court judge approved Webster’s acquisition of the Hempfield Township restaurant Thursday.
“She saved our jobs,” general manager Shawn Ruhlman said.
Ruhlman tried to keep employee morale high while uncertainty swirled around the fate of the Hempfield Township location, but she said many of the restaurant’s employees had already filled out job applications elsewhere.
“It was rough because I’m in charge of their livelihood,” he said of the former Perkins employees. “I told them that the best scenario would be to find a new buyer, and worst case scenario would be to collect unemployment until they could find something else.”
Ruhlman said he and the other 47 employees will stay on in their same positions under Webster’s ownership. One Mama Jane’s server, who said she did not want to be identified until after Webster had a chance to release a formal press release regarding the purchase, said the top-three longest tenured employees have a combined 79 years with the Hempfield Township Perkins location.
“We all love the area,” Ruhlman said. “We know all of our customers and are able to get their drink orders by heart.”
Webster was not immediately available for comment, but Ruhlman said the new owner formerly worked as the Perkins regional manager for years and already has a good rapport with employees.
“She knows what she is doing,” he said. “Everyone already has a lot of respect for her.”
For now, the restaurant is still operating with the same Perkins’ menu, but Ruhlman said he expects the new Mama Jane’s menu to roll out as early as next week.
Ruhlman said the building’s interior will undergo a full redesign in the near future. The general manager was reluctant to give away too many details about the new menu, but said customers can expect some of their favorite old-time comfort foods.
Monroeville-based Campbells Land Co., which operated 27 Perkins franchise locations, filed for Chapter 11 federal bankruptcy protection to reorganize its debts on July 8 after it was sued in federal court in Tennessee by Perkins’ corporate parent for breach of contract.
Perkins & Marie Callender’s LLC of Memphis, Tenn., Perkins’ corporate parent, sued CLC in June for failing to pay more than $2.1 million in royalties, marketing contributions and transfer fees. Perkins & Marie Callender’s received a temporary restraining order from federal court in Tennessee to stop CLC from using the Perkins name on CLC’s restaurants.
On Thursday, a Pittsburgh-based federal bankruptcy court judge approved Webster’s proposal to buy the former Perkins restaurants in Hempfield Township and New Castle. Under the court order, former Perkins restaurants in Grove City and Hermitage remain closed.
Ruhlman said he and his staff are just grateful for the chance Webster has given them to keep serving their communities, even if it isn’t under the Perkins name.
“I’m glad I’ll be able to help drive the bus,” Ruhlman said.