Salem's Mac and Bob's finds silver lining in lawsuit, long road still ahead

The restaurant and its owners are being compared to "It's a Wonderful Life"

SALEM, Va – A Salem landmark is doing better than ever by some accounts after it faced a lawsuit that could have very well shut the entire thing down. Mac and Bob's filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last fall after learning a policy requiring servers to tip out dishwashers instead of hosts was actually illegal.

Despite being on the losing end of that legal battle, the community has picked its winner. The calzones that made Mac and Bob's famous have not stopped coming out of the kitchen. It's been a rough go for the last few months at the Salem staple, but it is amazing what the power of compassion can do.

In small towns all across America, there's always a favorite place to break bread and share drinks. In Salem, Mac and Bob's is that place, and a look at the gift in the window is all the proof that you need.

"I never realized how it would take off, but it was done from the heart, and I did it for them because of what they've done for the community," Kelly Hubbard said.

Hubbard's life story probably couldn't go more than a page without mentioning Mac and Bob's. She crafted the diorama, complete with a bench, trees and snow, straight out of "It's a Wonderful Life," the story of the Bedford Falls banker who got help from everyone he'd helped when he needed it the most.

"It was hard not talking about it, and I was not expecting the community response, I thought we'd have some positive response but not to the extent we've had," Mac and Bob's Co-Owner Bob Rotanz said.

Rotanz said the community stepped up big time after they announced their legal trouble. Signs popped up and down Main Street, saying "We Stand With Mac and Bob's." Local kids hosted a lemonade stand to raise money for donations. Neighboring Olde Salem Brewing brewed a special beer in Mac and Bob's honor, donating a portion from every pint served to the legal fund. Between that, separate donations, and an online fundraiser, the legal fund topped $135,000. At the tables and bar inside, business spiked nearly 25 percent.

"You know, my partner and I are talking about retiring and selling the business and we were in the process before this and you know that's going to be a long process, but I didn't think this would be a chapter in it. You know I'm in the 4th quarter, late 4th quarter, this is one thing that wasn't planned," Rotanz said.

Mac and Bob's isn't out of the woods just yet as a civil lawsuit against Rotanz and his business partner is expected next. But if the story in the window out front is any hint, things at Mac and Bob's will probably turn out just fine.

"Salem wouldn't be Salem without Mac and Bob's, so what I was doing in fun because I love Christmas has really turned out to be something more meaningful than I ever thought it would be," Hubbard said.

The employees are the heart of Mac and Bob's, and to recognize their hard work, money leftover from the legal fund will go toward a scholarship fund to help them out. The entire situation, while not impacting day-to-day business, is still over many of the employees' heads, and especially over Rotanz's. He said they plan to throw a major party when this chapter of the book is finally complete, and everyone who supported them will be invited.

"I can't tell you how many people have said to me as I'm walking through the restaurant I just want you to know we came in tonight because we have a lot of places to go but we're coming here more often to help you out," Rotanz said.

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