Workers band together to save Paradise

Employees of embattled eatery try to raise money to buy downtown cafe's shut-down restaurant operations

Paradise may not be lost, after all.

Employees of the beloved-but-troubled downtown eatery are banding together to save the restaurant operations of Paradise Cafe, 728 Mass.

"We are attempting to put together a corporation and own the whole thing ourselves," said Linda Steele, a waitress and bartender. "We have to do something. At least try."

The odds are steep. Steve McCoy, the restaurant's owner of record, said it would take "a minimum of $85,000" for the employees to get the restaurant rolling again. And they have three or four weeks, he said, to do so.

But McCoy said he was rooting for the employees.

"I would love to see this happen," McCoy said. "I would love to see it continue -- I don't want to see it turned into a bar."

The employee effort comes days after Schuyler Lister, an investor and manager of daily operations, said the cafe would no longer serve food. The focus now will be on the bar and entertainment aspect of the business, he said.

Thirty-five workers were laid off after that decision; most are now participating in the effort to buy the cafe. They say they are motivated to save both their jobs and a downtown landmark.

"Why? Because it's Paradise and everybody loves Paradise," Steele said. "It's an American diner, and they're becoming prehistoric."

She said employees hope to raise money by offering prepaid memberships to customers. A customer who contributed $1,000 to the employee effort, she said, would get $100 off his or her bill each month at the restaurant.

"We have customers who are already spending that money anyway," she said.

Jack Combs, a five-year employee of the restaurant, said the employees restore some lost luster to the restaurant.

"Before Schuyler got there, Paradise was actually good," he said. "It stayed through all the changes on Mass. Street. It's not a corporate company -- I'd personally like to support small businesses instead of big corporations."

Lister on Friday declined comment.

"This is an institution in Lawrence," said Angie Davies, another Paradise employee. "This doesn't need to go away. I've made a second family there."

McCoy said he wanted the family to continue.

"They need money," he said. "It all comes down to whether they get the funds together. If they have the money, there's no reason they wouldn't do a fantastic job."


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