Plaid Rhino leaves 35 people jobless

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Photo by: Brian Winters

The Plaid Rhino closed to the surprise of its workers and the rest of the Hattiesburg community on Friday, March 29.

“After 10 years in business, management has reluctantly decided to close the Plaid Rhino permanently. Thank you for your support over the years and sorry for any inconvenience,” a sign from management said.

This put 35 people out of work, according to WDAM.

A former employee of Plaid Rhino Heather Morris said she “greatly appreciates” management giving her a job “when no one else would,” but she never received notification of the restaurant closing.

Morris said she was scheduled to work Friday at 4 p.m.

“I had been up since 9 a.m. that morning, and I got dressed and headed into work and got there around 3:50. I went to go inside for work, figured it was a slow day because the parking lot was mostly empty. I pulled on the doors, and they were locked. I peeked inside through the glass, and all of the lights were off. They put the sign off to the side saying that they were shut down for good,” Morris said.

Morris said she began to panic because she now needs to find a new job in order to provide for two sons.

“It was like a knife to my heart,” she said. “I have two young boys and was only making 2.30 an hour plus whatever tips I made, and now I suddenly had no job again.”

Leslie Barnes worked at the Plaid Rhino as a bartender for five years. Barnes said she received an email at 7 a.m. Friday from management about the restaurant closing.

She said she and the other employees became suspicious of the Plaid Rhino’s status the night before.

“The owner came in with friends and ate Thursday night but said nothing to employees that we were closing,” Barnes said. “At the end of the night, a few of us like to go on the Facebook page to read reviews, and the Facebook page had been deactivated. Then we all started wondering, ‘Are we closing, or what’s going on?’”

Hattiesburg residents have been speculating if the restaurant closed because of its unpopularity and its alleged uncleanliness.

In December 2018, a woman claiming she was fired for falsified reasoning made a public Facebook post with photos showing the unsanitary conditions of what was allegedly the Plaid Rhino’s kitchen.

The post went viral and caused the Rhino to post photos to refute the woman’s claims.

At the time of its closing and at the time the post was made, the Plaid Rhino had an A rating, according to the Mississippi Department of Health.  

The restaurant was inspected 30 times from 2009 to 2019. It received 25 A ratings, four B ratings and one C rating.

Barnes said the restaurant was slowly improving because of new management, food and an organized kitchen.

“The service was not on point at times because we were understaffed in the front of the house, but we were slowly hiring and training,” Barnes said.

“I loved my job there,” Morris said. “Sure, the restaurant had issues at times, and we all make mistakes. But no one deserves to be dropped like they meant nothing.”

The owner of Plaid Rhino and Rainforest Carwash, Mike Gornak, has not responded to requests for comment.

Former employee Grey Rockwell worked at the Rhino for only five months before the closing. Rockwell said she would like everyone to boycott Gornak’s other business.

“We had no way of knowing or preparing for unemployment,” Rockwell said. “Most of the former employees were overworked and working in substandard conditions, yet none of the staff is receiving any kind of severance. [Gornak] failed to remember his employees relied on their job at the Plaid Rhino, and it’s affecting all of us. Mike Gornak should be held responsible for his complete and total neglect of his employees.”

This is not the first time a Hattiesburg business has closed without warning its employees. In 2016, Cheddars Scratch Kitchen closed “due to its struggle to remain profitable,” according to a statement by former Regional Vice President of Cheddar’s David Reckner and posted by WDAM.