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Applebee’s Exec’s Leaked Emails Spark Online Outrage, Mass Resignations

Published: March 30, 2022
An Applebee's restaurant serves customers on Aug. 10, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. Applebee’s leadership is in damage control after leaked emails, implying inflation is forcing employees to work longer hours for less money, go viral. (Image: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Leaked emails from an executive for popular chain restaurant Applebee’s has ignited online fury prompting the company to fire the author. 

Wayne Pankratz, the now former executive director of operations for Apple Central, LLC, a franchise group that owns several restaurants, was fired after leaked emails — that were first published to Facebook and reposted to controversial Reddit forum r/antiwork on March 23 — argued that inflation would push people to work at the restaurant for less money and longer hours. 

In the now viral emails with the subject “Why gas increase is good for hiring” Pankratz wrote, “Everyone has heard that gas prices continue to rise. The advantage this has for us is that it will increase application flow and has the potential to lower our average wage,” adding that, “As inflation continues to climb and gas prices continue to go up, that means more hours employees will need to work to maintain their current level of living.”

Pankratz said that Applebee’s is “no longer competing with the government when it comes to hiring. Stimulus money is no more, supplemental unemployment is no more,” concluding that this “will force people back into the workforce.”

“The labor market is about to turn in our favor,” he wrote.

The disgraced executive’s comments went viral online with the original Reddit post garnering over 76.5 thousand reactions within days. 

The top comment on the Reddit forum, with over 9.1 thousand likes reads, “I will continue my lifelong boycott of Applebees in solidarity.”

On March 28, a spokesperson for Applebee’s confirmed with Newsweek that Pankratz is no longer with the company and issued a statement saying, “This is the opinion of an individual, not Applebee’s. The individual has been terminated by the franchise who owns and operates the restaurants in this market.”

The offending emails were originally sent on March 9 and then shared amongst Applebee’s corporate employees with one Applebee’s employee responding, “Great message sir!”

Mass resignations

According to Vice News, the emails were the catalyst for mass resignations at an Applebee’s restaurant in Lawrence, Kansas.

Jake Holcomb, a shift manager at the Applebee’s in Lawrence, after reading Pankratz’s email reportedly printed “stacks” of the email, distributed them to employees at the restaurant, posted copies all around the site and then quit on the spot.

Holcomb told Vice News, “I gave everyone in the restaurant their food for free. We didn’t even close the store.”

Reportedly, over the following week, four out of six managers and at least 10 other workers at the site either quit on the spot or handed in their resignations citing the emails as their breaking point, Vice News reported.

Adrian Kelley, 22, a former bartender at the Lawrence Applebee’s restaurant said, “This was kind of a straw that broke the camel’s back situation where everyone was feeling unappreciated [and] we were understaffed. And then this email was so atrocious that it kind of just tipped everyone over the edge.”

Jenna Willis, 23, read the emails the day after Holcomb posted them and also decided to quit.

“Oh my gosh, I was so mad,” she told Vice, adding that, “I let the staff that showed up to open that morning read it, and they were livid. So I told them if we wanted to make money, we would open, but I didn’t really feel like we should at that point.”

The staff decided not to open the restaurant and shut it down for several hours.

“How can we continue to work for a company that doesn’t care about us?” Willis said. 

Kevin Carroll, Applebee’s chief operations officer in a statement provided to Vice said, “Our team members are the lifeblood of our restaurants, and our franchisees are always looking to reward and incentivize team members, new and current, to remain within the Applebee’s family.”