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Buckeye's closes after 10 months; founder blames trouble with employees; Restaurant aimed to aid troubled youth

Buckeye's Chicken, the restaurant that opened on Michigan Avenue in Buffalo in January and sought to provide high-risk young people job opportunities, has closed.

And Bishop Perry L. Davis, the minister who poured his retirement savings into starting the venture, said he is broke and facing eviction from the restaurant.

Buckeye's abruptly ceased operations last week when its locks were changed by Norstar Building Corp., the company that owns the building at 401 Michigan Ave. Davis said he owes about $16,000 for three months' rent.

And he's being sued by Norstar. The lawsuit is scheduled for Wednesday in City Court.

"The stuff I've been going through trying to help people and deter crime has been absolutely brutal," Davis said. "I could have easily kept my retirement money and moved to Miami, but I didn't because I wanted to make a difference. And all I caught was hell."

Davis said some employees tried to extort money from him by filing false claims of not being compensated to the Labor Department. And he claims a former worker has threatened a sexual harassment suit if he doesn't pay her $1,000.

"It was a defamation of [my] character as far as I'm concerned," he said.

A lack of restaurant experience and the incongruous combination of a business with a charity contributed to the financial losses, he said.

But Davis said the locking of his restaurant was illegal, because Norstar acted without a court order or an eviction notice.

Norstar declined to comment due to the pending court case.

Davis, a 51-year-old community activist, founded the Stop the Violence Foundation, which seeks to reduce crime by involving youngsters in community projects, such as elderly assistance and youth activities.

He envisioned Buckeye's as the economic empowerment arm of the foundation, providing jobs as an alternative to illegal means of earning money.

He leased the former KFC site from Norstar in May 2010 and said he spent $150,000 and four months on repairs before investing $118,000 in equipment. He hired 24 workers, all of whom also joined his organization, and opened Buckeye's earlier this year.

Business was brisk for the first few months, as people dined on fried chicken, chicken sandwiches and side dishes such as red beans and rice, and baked macaroni and cheese. The menu even featured alligator tail meat.

"I was hoping I could be a solution for 24 people in Buffalo," he said.

But Davis said business slowed after six employees charged they weren't being paid, hurting profits in the summer.

"People just stopped coming in because of the bad press," he said.

And even with surveillance cameras, he said, employees were stealing money out of registers and products from the restaurant.

He said he regrets hiring workers who walked into the restaurant without screening them or doing background checks.

Though Davis is now considering filing for bankruptcy, he said he doesn't regret trying to help. In fact, he said, he may try another business when he rebounds financially.

"I did what was put into my heart to do, and I won't give up," he said.