Blue C Sushi abruptly closed all seven of its restaurants on Jan. 6, surprising many of their employees, who were laid off.

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The popular Blue C Sushi abruptly closed all seven branches including five in the Seattle area due to financial problems, according to a memo the company emailed to employees on Sunday, Jan. 6 after dinner service.

Financial records filed with the King County Superior Court and the state Department of Revenue indicated Madison Holdings,  Blue C Sushi’s parent company, had a history of falling behind on its taxes, owing $194,957 as recently as 2016.

Several employees came to work for their lunch shift on Monday, Jan. 7 only to find the doors locked. In an email, Blue C Sushi told employees to come to designated Starbucks to pick up their final paychecks later this week. In an internal memo obtained by The Seattle Times, management advised employees to “deposit it promptly.”

The local restaurant chain helped popularize the conveyor-belt sushi concept around Seattle, where plates of Spider Rolls and other sushi rotate past dining tables on a conveyor belt, allowing customers to pick and choose.

Eater was the first to report the closure and layoffs.

The closure surprised many employees who didn’t know that Jan. 6 would be their last shift. Alanis McFly, a busser at the Blue C Sushi in Westfield Southcenter mall, came to work Monday and found “the chairs were upturned on the tables, and customers tried the door and it was locked … That’s what blew my mind. Everything was fine,” during dinner service Sunday.

The Seattle sushi chain runs five branches in the Seattle area and two in Southern California. In addition to Southcenter, it had outlets in downtown Seattle, University Village, Alderwood mall in Lynnwood and at Bellevue Square. It is not known how many people the chain employed. Management at Blue C Sushi could not be reached for comment.

Co-founder Steve Rosen, who sold his share of Blue C Sushi in 2011, said he has nothing to do with the current management. But after hearing patrons might be left with useless sushi gift cards, Rosen in an email said his restaurant, Elemental Pizza in the University Village, would allow those gift-card holders to redeem up to $30 off at his pizza parlor.

He will also treat any Blue C Sushi employee who got laid off to a meal at his restaurant. Former employees can get “any free pizza or salad or sandwich, along with a nonalcoholic beverage” by showing their final pay stub, Rosen wrote in an email.

All deals are good until Feb. 14.

Seattle Times news researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this report.