By Kim West
For Deborah Gill, the change in ownership today at the Taco Bell in Athens meant more than being tasked with boxing up paperwork, jotting down sales goals and learning new policies.
It also meant having to work for a different owner for the first time in her 24-year tenure at the restaurant, which was owned by Athens businessman Mike Grisham of Grisham Fast Foods Inc. for 25 years until Birmingham-based Tacala Foods LLC purchased all seven of his franchises.
Gill, 60, began as part of the original crew when Grisham’s flagship restaurant opened in November 1988 at the bustling corner of Jefferson Street and U.S. 72.
She climbed her way up the ladder to become the restaurant’s general manager before leaving in 1999 to pursue another opportunity and then returning in 2001.
Gill said when Grisham announced the change in operating ownership — he still owns the land and buildings at four of his seven former franchises, including Athens — it was met with a lot of emotion during the company’s end-of-the-year meeting in December.
She said there were “a lot of tears and hugs” because so many Grisham employees have stayed with the company through the years and have grown into a family.
Among her store crew, there are several longtime Grisham employees. These include assistant manager Kevin Krieger, who is in his 13th year working at multiple Grisham restaurants; position trainer Anita Jones, who is a month away from her 11-year anniversary at the Athens location; and shift manager Markesha Vance, who has worked five years for Tacala and more than four years with Grisham.
“Mike Grisham was a great owner to work for, and it was a pleasure to work for him for so long,” said Gill, whose management team and crew were all retained by Tacala. “With the Tacala changeover, I’m going to roll with the flow and look forward to getting to know the new ownership.”
Facts and figures
County records show the 25,000-square foot property currently occupied by the Athens Taco Bell is valued at $536,720, with Grisham also remaining the owner of a vacant lot next to Wendy’s on U.S. 72 near the Interstate 65 exit.
The 30,825-square foot lot is valued at $308,250 and is expected to become the site of the city’s second Taco Bell once Tacala officials make the decision to build a new restaurant.
Terms of the Tacala-Grisham deal have not been publicly disclosed since it was a private business transaction.
Tacala — whose company president and chief operating officer, Tim Morrison, visited the Athens restaurant today — began with one location in Columbiana in 1989 and has grown to 262 Taco Bell franchises and 67 Sonic restaurants through Boom Foods.
According to trade publications, Tacala became the largest franchisee for Taco Bell in December after Tacala’s parent company, Alatamont Capital Partners in San Francisco, acquired 80 restaurants in Texas owned by Austaco.