Jeffrey Milliken, owner of Nekillem Food Services, also owns the physical property where the now-closed Statesboro Steak ‘n Shake is located, but he said he has nothing to do with the store’s closing and employees not being paid.
He bought the Statesboro Steak ‘n Shake franchise in 2018, but he said he leased it to Lamont Brooks in September and he is not responsible for the problems facing the restaurant’s now-unemployed workers. As a matter of fact, he did not even know about the issue until Friday, he said.
Brooks signed an operational agreement with Milliken months ago when he also signed a 20-year lease on the actual property, Milliken told the Statesboro Herald Thursday. Brooks also leased the Pooler Steak ‘n Shake, which was already closed.
Last week, the Herald spoke with five former Steak ‘n Shake employees who said they had not been paid what they are owed and that the last check they did get from Brooks bounced.
The Herald reached out to both Milliken and Brooks last week but did not reach them immediately. After the first article was published, Brooks returned a call but would not discuss the matter at hand, instead complaining about the article being published.
asked to give his version and explain what happened, he refused to comment.
Milliken called the Herald Thursday after someone made him aware of the article. He said he had no idea what was going on at the Statesboro location, as he no longer has a hand in the operation.
Brooks did not return phone calls Friday seeking comment.
Closed and no pay
Statesboro’s Steak ‘n Shake closed Friday, Dec. 6, reportedly without warning to employees.
Five employees told the Herald they have not received their last paychecks that are due. They also said the ones before that were returned for insufficient funds.
A spokesperson at the Georgia Department of Labor in Statesboro, who would not be identified because of not being authorized to share information, confirmed Monday that several employees of Statesboro’s Steak ‘ Shake have contacted the Statesboro Department of Labor office with complaints. The spokesperson said those employees were referred to the United States Department of Labor because the issue “is federal.”
Georgia Department of Labor’s public affairs officer David Bennett said concerns about pay matters are handled by the federal department. Calls to the U.S. Department of Labor’s public affairs office have not yet been returned.
Jordan Robinson, who was an assistant manager for the Statesboro Steak ‘n Shake, said he even went to another state for training in preparation for Brooks’ plan to turn the Steak ‘n Shake into another restaurant.
Milliken said he was told that Brooks was not going to close the Statesboro restaurant until after the first of the year, when he planned a “60- to 90-day transition” into a Fazoli’s Italian restaurant.
Milliken said Brooks never told him about the early closing, and he said he communicates with Brooks by e-mail.
Brooks “has always been on time with the rent, so I didn’t know there were problems,” he said.
Calls in effort to reach the Steak ‘n Shake corporate office were unsuccessful.
The employees are angry as well as concerned about how they’re going to pay their bills.
Jessica Golden, who said she starting working at Steak ‘n Shake in March, said Brooks will not return her calls either.
Former general manager Hannah Darling, who Milliken said worked for him before and had been sent to Statesboro from North Carolina, said she quit just a few days before Brooks locked the doors.
“Things started in a downward spiral” in September when Brooks took over, including there being no supplies ordered, Darling said. “We have had to go out and buy things close to the products Steak ‘n Shake sells” to get by. Only Brooks was allowed to order supplies, she said.
Demetrius Perkins and Keisha Grant, who also worked for the Statesboro restaurant, claimed they also have not been paid.
“Right here at Christmas, we need our money,” Grant said.
Perkins said it has been more than six weeks since he was paid. Darling said it has been almost two months since some employees were paid correctly.
The Statesboro Herald will continue to investigate the matter and will publish more information as it becomes available.
Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.