Fields Foods Employees Say They Knew Nothing of 'Employee Group' Plans

"Nobody's going to buy this," says one former employee of the struggling local grocery chain

Aug 17, 2023 at 9:57 am
click to enlarge The Fields Foods on DeBaliviere announced a "temporary pause" on July 31. - SARAH FENSKE
SARAH FENSKE
The Fields Foods on DeBaliviere announced a "temporary pause" on July 31.
Brent Nichols worked for the Fields Foods near Forest Park for the grocery store's entire life. He was hired to be the lead cashier at an employment fair not long before the store opened in February. And then he worked right up until the point he arrived at the store on July 31 to find the doors locked.

But while a sign on the door saying the store would "temporarily pause business," and owner Chris Goodson has said he plans to sell the local grocery chain to an employee group, Nichols is skeptical. Not only did employees get no notice about the "pause," three newly former employees tell the RFT they've also received no information about any resumption of service.

Nor have they seen any sign of a prospective buyer. "They say an employee group is buying it," Nichols says. "But I'd expect people to have come in  with measuring tape or notepad. There's nobody investing in this sight unseen. We never saw anyone." Nor, all three employees say, were they ever solicited to learn more about any "employee group."

Not that Nichols would want to be a part of one anyway.

"Nobody's going to buy this," he says. "I think they're just stringing [vendors] along and getting their shit together to declare bankruptcy."

click to enlarge When freezers broke, employees tell the RFT they were told to re-freeze thawed food and sell it anyway. - COURTESY OF BRENT NICHOLS
COURTESY OF BRENT NICHOLS
When freezers broke, employees tell the RFT they were told to re-freeze thawed food and sell it anyway.
Indeed, Nichols says the six months he worked at the grocer was a frustrating experience that involved constant complaints from vendors that they weren't being paid, diminishing inventory and employee checks that regularly bounced. When the freezers broke — which all three employees say they did regularly — they were instructed to refreeze what they could and sell it anyway.

A request for comment sent to a Fields Foods email address for marketing inquiries did not receive a reply earlier this week. This morning, a follow-up request to that same address received a bounce-back reply.

Mark Snell, who worked as the assistant store manager on DeBaliviere, describes a similar experience to Nichols'. He says he saw the same broken freezers and troubling practices around the food stored inside. He also dealt with complaints from vendors who weren't getting paid.

click to enlarge Nichols said ice cream melted onto the shelves, but they refroze the products anyway. - COURTESY OF BRENT NICHOLS
COURTESY OF BRENT NICHOLS
Nichols said ice cream melted onto the shelves, but they refroze the products anyway.
"What I want to know is what he was doing with all the money he was making when he wasn't paying the bills," Snell says of Goodson. "Come on, man."

Like Nichols, Snell says the first he heard about any employee group was Goodson's remarks to the media — and even after, no employee he spoke with knew anything about it.

"None of us heard anything about that," he says.

When Fields closed the Forest Park store on July 31, the sign on the door promised it would "reopen in a few short weeks." But Snell says he and other managers were instructed to pack up the store beginning that same day, and they worked quietly beyond locked doors to do so.

Snell finally quit on August 1 after growing increasingly frustrated by the company's lack of communication to employees.

"They closed on Monday, and on Tuesday, people were still showing up for shifts," he says. "You're going to shut the stores down and you haven't told anybody?"

Kelly Maynard, who worked full-time at the DeBaliviere store, says she was initially told she'd be able to keep her job during the shutdown. She even helped pack up the store — only to be ghosted when the job was done. "I even tried to contact managers. 'Do I still have a job?' You get no reply." When she went to pick up her check, she was told that she'd been laid off, but could reapply if she wanted another job. 

"We kept getting the runaround," she says.

Since the DeBaliviere store closed two weeks ago, the Fields store in Dogtown has also locked its doors, the fourth to shutter in recent months. The company faces a lawsuit for failure to pay rent at a fifth location, one of the two remaining stores, in Downtown West.

Snell is now looking for work elsewhere. "I'm putting out resumes every day," he says. "I sent four this morning." He worries about the people who worked with, who mostly made $12-$14 an hour, no benefits.

"I chose to walk away," he says. "The other people didn't have a choice. I've been in the workplace for 40 years, and this was by far the worst company I ever worked for. They had no respect for anybody."


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