(NEXSTAR) — A mid-level executive working for an Applebee’s franchisee was officially terminated over a leaked email. They suggested to colleagues that rising gas prices and inflation would allow the franchisee to hire employees at lower wages.
In a leaked email sent to his colleagues on March 9, the executive—believed to be Wayne Pankratz—said inflation gave the franchisee a new “advantage” over “mom and pop companies or smaller businesses” as it would “increase application flow and has the potential to lower our average wage.” The executive, who was employed by the Missouri-based Apple Central Group, was fired on Monday, Applebee’s confirmed this week.
American Franchise Capital (AFC) owns over 100 restaurants in the Midwest, including both Applebee’s and Taco Bell locations, according to the Kansas City Star. Pankratz’s profile on LinkedIn, where he’s described as an executive director of operations at Applebee’s, had been taken down this week.
“We are no longer competing with the government when it comes to hiring,” the email’s author explained. “Stimulus money is no more, supplemental unemployment is no more. This benefits us … people who [were] relying on unemployment money, simply will have less money to spend. It will force people back into the workforce.”
The executive also acknowledged that “most of our employee base and potential employee base live paycheck to paycheck,” and some “will need to work more hours or get a second job” to maintain their current standards of living. “Do things to make sure you are the employer of choice,” he advised. “Get schedules completed early so they can plan their other jobs around yours. Most importantly, have the culture and environment that will attract people.”
A representative for AFC added that Pankratz “doesn’t have the authority to create policy for our company for the brand or anything,” and suggested that “maybe he wrote it in the middle of the night.”
“The main message here is that this in absolutely no way, shape, or form speaks to our policies or our culture, or anything like that with our brand,” the spokesperson told the Kansas City Star.
The leaked email was later shared on social media platforms like Reddit and Twitter, where it drew immediate backlash. An Applebee’s manager in Lawrence, Kansas, told the Springfield News-Leader that he quit his job the same day he became aware of the email, but not before printing out “a couple dozen” copies and posting them throughout the restaurant. Another employee at the restaurant claimed that about 10 other workers had quit as well, according to the outlet. The restaurant was temporarily closed on Tuesday.
“Imagine celebrating that your employees don’t make enough to live and being overjoyed that you’ll be able to pay them *even less* because now they are more desperate,” wrote one LinkedIn user. “Sickening.”
“I’m thankful so many restaurants are showing us they are run by absolute trash people,” another Twitter user said. “I order take-out about 90% less than I used to, have blacklisted many stores, and both my wallet and health have improved.”
In response to the leaked memo, Applebee’s released a statement appearing to confirm its legitimacy while distancing itself from the opinions of its author. This week, the company added that Pankratz had been fired.
“This is the opinion of an individual, not Applebee’s,” said Kevin Carroll, the chief operations officer at Applebee’s, in a statement shared with NEWS10’s Nexstar affiliate. “The individual has been terminated by the franchisee who owns and operates the restaurants in this market. 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.”