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Bill the Butcher CEO J’Amy Owens has another lawsuit on her hands, this time from 11 ex-employees who say they were owed $42,000 in wages when the company abruptly shut its six high-end meat shops last month.

Meanwhile, the chain’s Woodinville shop appears to be reopening under the banner of BB Ranch, a Pike Place Market butcher shop established by William von Schneidau, who co-founded Bill the Butcher but later left the company and sued Owens.

A banner for BB Ranch now hangs in the store, and a longtime customer of the shop was told BB Ranch is taking it over.

Von Schneidau said he expects to have an announcement soon, but declined immediate comment. The Woodinville store’s landlord, Richard Shawver, would not say what his plans are.

The employee lawsuit against Owens comes as shareholders of Bill the Butcher, which was publicly traded despite its minuscule size, are wondering what happened to the 53-year-old retail expert who was its CEO, chief financial officer, and only board member, as well as its controlling shareholder.

“The CEO is missing in action, at a public company,” said one shareholder who bought a substantial amount of stock from the company earlier this year. “I’m not holding my breath to see any of my money again.”

Shawver, the Woodinville landlord, also said he “never heard a word” in response to eviction notices and warnings the personal property inside the store would be sold.

Bill the Butcher, whose shares sold last week for half a cent each, has not updated its website or its Securities and Exchange Commission filings to reflect the store closures.

The 11 employees who sued Owens and Bill the Butcher include its former operations manager, purchasing director and head butcher, as well as five meat cutters and three administrative support workers.

The lawsuit, filed Oct. 31 in King County Superior Court, claims the operating account at Wells Fargo that was used for company payroll ended September with a balance of just $57.78.

But when the company received a $108,596 refund for overpaid state taxes on Oct. 6, Owens instructed her staff not to deposit it into the Wells account, says the suit.

Instead Owens had the check put into a “joint BTB/Owen (sic) account” that only she could access, and she rebuffed her staffer’s request for $50,000 to make payroll.

A day later, according to the suit, Owens “ceased communications with her operations staff.”

Around the same time, signs declaring “closed until further notice” went up at the company’s six stores in and around Seattle. The landlord of the Laurelhurst store recently posted an eviction notice claiming he is owed more than $10,000 for unpaid rent beginning in June.

The former workers say they are owed about $36,500 for the final pay period before the stores closed, and several thousand more for uncashed paychecks from earlier periods.

Founded in 2009, Bill the Butcher was always strapped for capital and lost nearly $3.3 million on sales of $1.3 million for the nine months ended May 31, according to its latest quarterly filing.

But the latest financial issues for Owens were spotlighted in late September when Sunny Kobe Cook, a well-known retail entrepreneur, blogged that Owens owes her about $66,000 from overdue personal loans made “at the start of her many legal battles.”

Shortly after the stores closed, The Seattle Times reported that a lawsuit against Owens by the owner of the five-bedroom Queen Anne house she occupied for nearly two years reveals that all payments for the home had been made by Bill the Butcher.

The company’s regulatory filings said Owens was leasing a “corporate facility” to the company for $10,000 a month, but did not disclose that those payments were part of a deal to buy the residential property for her. Owens moved out of the house last month.

— Rami Grunbaum: rgrunbaum@seattletimes.com

Developer to build hospitals in China

Seattle-based Columbia Pacific Management is entering the China hospital market with initial plans to build two facilities there next year.

The move comes after the Chinese government announced in August that it would allow fully foreign-owned companies to open or operate hospitals in some parts of the country.

Columbia Pacific Management, which has a network of 26 hospitals in India and Southeast Asia, will operate in China under the affiliate name Columbia China.

Columbia China will start construction next year on two 250-bed multispecialty hospitals in Wuxi and Changzhou, the company said. Each hospital will cost about $80 million to $100 million and employ 600 to 800 people.

Columbia China is also pursuing opportunities for hospital acquisitions, as well as opening several multispecialty and specialty outpatient clinics, the company said in a news release.

Its first clinic, which will offer services in internal medicine, pediatrics, rehabilitation and traditional Chinese medicine, will open this month in Shanghai.

Another Columbia Pacific affiliate, Cascade Healthcare, has opened three senior-care facilities in China, most recently a 78-bed community in Shanghai’s Pudong district.

Columbia Pacific is an investment company established by Dan Baty, co-founder and longtime chairman of Seattle-based senior housing company Emeritus, which was acquired this summer for $1.4 billion in stock.

— Janet I. Tu: jtu@seattletimes.com