New restaurant opened in space that had been built as an IHOP.

Vandalia restaurant’s employees dispute owner’s claim of ‘rampant theft’

Several former employees of The Wright Café in Vandalia — which closed just before Memorial Day weekend, less than three months after it opened — are disputing the owner’s claim that there was "rampant theft (of) money, equipment and food" going on there.

Michael Dixson, president of El Paso, Texas-based Prestige Development Group and the owner of The Wright Cafe, told this news outlet in an email on Memorial Day, May 27, that the restaurant at 3324 Benchwood Road would reopen "sometime later, but for now, we need to regroup." He said the theft of money, equipment and food was the reason he shut down the restaurant.

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That email was sent 10 hours before the restaurant was damaged in the rash of Memorial Day tornadoes. It’s not clear whether the damage — a large branch struck shattered some windows on the side of the building, and Vandalia city officials said a natural gas meter behind the restaurant also was damaged — will have an impact on the reopening plans. There had been no apparent attempt to clean up the debris or cover the windows as of Monday afternoon, June 3, more than six days after the storm.

Former employees contacted this news outlet after seeing the owner’s claim of “rampant theft” to dispute that claim. 

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“That’s crazy. That’s a flat-out lie,” said Jodi Hacker of Huber Heights, who worked as a server there and persuaded a family member to work there as well. 

Hacker and a second employee, Julie Guerriero, said the only time that employees took food home was on the restaurant’s last day, which was just before the start of the Memorial Day weekend. And that was at the specific invitation of a restaurant manager, they said. 

“The manager gave us the food,” Guerriero said. Hacker agreed, saying she was told by a manager, “The food is just going to go bad anyway.” 

Hacker and Guerriero said they were not aware of any theft of equipment or money.

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Two additional former employees of The Wright Cafe who asked not to be named because they are looking for other employment also said they were not aware of any theft of money or equipment, and food was taken only as the restaurant was about to close. 

Hacker and Guerriero, along with the two other employees, all said paychecks were irregular during their stint at The Wright Cafe, and all say they are still owed money for hours they worked there.

Dixson did not respond to requests for comment left on Monday and Tuesday.

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Dixson and Prestige Development Group served as area developer for IHOP as the national chain was re-establishing a presence in the Miami Valley the last few years. But the company, also called PDG Inc., also has faced multiple lawsuits from vendors it has dealt with during the construction of the Benchwood Road restaurant.

The most recent lawsuit, filed in February 2019 in Montgomery County Common Pleas Court by Merric Millwork and Seating of Bridgeton, Missouri, claimed it was owed more than $42,000 by Prestige Development Group for booths, tabletops, a hostess stand, a chair rail, a community table and window sills it had manufactured and installed.

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Montgomery County Common Pleas Judge Dennis J. Adkins granted the Missouri company a default judgment on April 19 after Prestige Development Group failed the respond, and a damages hearing is scheduled for this week, Thursday June 6, according to online court records.

The Benchwood Road Wright Cafe was designed, built and outfitted in 2017 and early 2018 to be the Dayton area’s fourth IHOP restaurant, complete with IHOP signage. But it never opened as an IHOP, and neither IHOP corporate officials nor Dixson nor the franchisee of the three Dayton-area existing IHOPs would explain why. 

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Meanwhile, the other three IHOP restaurants in the region — in Beavercreek, Huber Heights and Springfield — shut down unexpectedly in mid-January 2019 and have not reopened. The Wright Cafe opened in March 2019, and three weeks later, Dixson told this news outlet that it had had  “very good success since opening” and had been “successfully doing business for a few weeks.”

“Our customers leave the restaurant happy and come back usually with a new customer,” Dixson said.