Updated 11:50 a.m. with comments from 3rd employee, Nicole House

Ithaca, N.Y. — Sometime last week, the employees of Rulloff’s Bar and Restaurant learned that there would be a staff meeting on Monday.

They didn’t know what the meeting would be about. One server suspected they would discuss new ways to prepare for the school year. Another assumed they would discuss how to best use the downstairs area of the bar.

About 30 employees crowded in for the 11 a.m. meeting. Then a man many of them had never met stood up, introduced himself and delivered the shocking news.

Rulloff’s, open since 1977, would be closing. Effective that day. The employees were told they could pick up their last paychecks and that references were available.

Rulloff's bar on Monday. (Jeff Stein/Ithaca Voice)
Rulloff’s bar on Monday. (Jeff Stein/Ithaca Voice)
Rulloff’s bar on Monday. (Jeff Stein/Ithaca Voice)

The entire speech lasted about 90 seconds, according to two Rulloff’s employees.

“We had no idea it was coming: Everyone was mortified,” said Sherry Newby, who had worked at the bar for almost a year.

“It was a nightmare.”

Stunned, some of the employees just looked down. Others stood up and left immediately in anger, Newby said.

Rulloff’s employees had waited through a slow summer with the expectation of the usual influx of income with the arrival of students in the fall, Newby said.

“… All this summer we were making no money, but we stuck to it because we knew the fall was coming, and then: Boom, they hit us,” Newby said. “They could’ve given us notice so we could’ve looked for other jobs.”

Newby, 50, said she worries deeply for those who rely on weekly Rulloff’s checks to provide for their families.

“There are people there who have kids,” she said. “There are so many people who really depended on this place.”

Rulloff’s has been open in Ithaca since 1977, according the bar’s website, prominently located on the heavily trafficked College Avenue.

A listing by the Pyramid Brokerage Company says the property is for sale. Its going price is $395,000, according to the website.

Student Agencies owns and manages the property. In an interview at the organization’s offices on Tuesday, a Student Agencies official said that its CEO Kyle Karnes would not be offering a comment on Rulloff’s. The official also said that there was nobody else The Voice could speak with about the matter.

It’s not immediately clear why the bar would close without prior notice or a closing sale.

The two employees who spoke with The Voice said they didn’t understand what happened. The bar’s liquor license has not been revoked, according to an online New York State directory.

Kylie, a Rulloff’s server who asked that her last name not be used, said she quit a full-time job to work at Rulloff’s a few months ago.

“There are other people who have kids who put their heart and soul into Rulloff’s,” said Kylie, 19. “It was a total shock.”

Nicole House worked as a Rulloff’s server for more than a year. She’s not sure how she’ll pay for her two daughters after the closure. In an interview, she said she was furious that there was no severance or other pay for the employees.

“I thought I was supposed to work” on Monday, she said. “I went to punch in and they said, ‘You don’t need to punch in.’”

The news was painful given how much the Rulloff’s “family” enjoyed working together, Newby said.

“I loved working there. Everyone loved working there,” Newby said.

Newby said the employees at Rulloff’s were told about the staff meeting through an envelope tacked to a shelf above the bar.

The red writing on the envelope didn’t express that the meeting would be important, Newby said.

As a result, she said, many of the Rulloff’s employees weren’t even at the meeting.

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Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.