The day after forcing the return of Arthur T. Demoulas as Market Basket’s leader, workers were happily dividing their energy between two demands: basking in the glow of their hard-won triumph, and the monumental challenge of rebuilding the company they just spent six weeks trying to cripple.
“The customers have supported us nonstop for six weeks, so we owe it to them to get this place back together,” said Bob Chausse, the assistant director of the chain’s flagship Chelsea store.
After getting word of the deal late Wednesday night, Chausse put on his shoes, jogged to his car, and sped off toward the empty shelves that awaited him. Along the way, Chausse called other managers, his employees, and vendors, telling them simply, “It’s time.”
Tom Gordon, a grocery supervisor who was fired early on in the protest, returned to work at 2:00 a.m. Thursday, touring a warehouse, meeting with Arthur T. Demoulas, and doling out hugs and handshakes at five different stores. By the time he got home, he hadn’t slept for more than 36 hours.
And he’s still unsure whether he has his old job back.
Just after 6 a.m. bakery manager Alan Wetmore set about restocking shelves at the store in Chelsea while calling suppliers. Unsure when some would be able to deliver to the stores, Wetmore later drove in his own car to pick up a load of Parisian bread.
In the Andover warehouse Thursday morning, rock music thumped in the background as workers on forklifts prepared pallets with products for loading onto dozens of trucks scheduled to leave for the stores early Friday.
Running on 45 minutes sleep, Andy Lien, a warehouse director, said his employees would work through the night if necessary to keep the resupply effort running.
“It’s worth every minute to have Artie T. back,” he said.
Earlier Thursday, many took a moment to celebrate, attending a rally outside company headquarters in Tewksbury that marked the triumphant return of the man for whom many had put their jobs on the line. And in his remarks, Arthur T. Demoulas acknowledged the powerful role employees played in restoring him atop the family grocery empire.
“As I stand here, there is very little that I could ever add to your brilliant work, your extraordinary display of loyalty, and the power of your enduring spirit over the past several weeks,” Demoulas said, addressing the crowd from the bed of a pickup truck. “You taught everybody that . . . Market Basket is a place where respect, honor, and dignity is a way of life.”
Keying off his upbeat tone, employees across the chain’s 71 stores projected a sense of cheerful determination. But before they rolled up their sleeves, there were moments of jubilation and release, a stark contrast to the tension and uncertainty that had hung over the empty aisles.
“I’ve never seen so many happy people in my life,” said 75-year-old customer Elizabeth Cleary, who held signs outside the Wilmington Market Basket every day during the protests. “I think my cheeks are going to crack from smiling so much. It was beautiful.”
For Thursday, Cleary made one last sign: “Welcome home, Market Basket family We won!”
At the Chelsea store, emotional cashiers embraced as a group and veteran employees exchanged congratulations with longtime customers, most of whom came to the store for no other reason than to soak in the long-hoped-for scene.
Despite working through the night, employees seemed energized. At the meat counter, Bob Dietz and Rafael Vargas grinned and shook hands with passing customers as they pored over inventory sheets and order forms. After agreeing on a plan, Dietz picked up a phone on the wall and called his chicken supplier.
“Guess who?” he said.
Dietz placed his order, then implored the supplier, “And hurry up!”
“We’re getting it back in motion,” he said. “We have pork coming in today, I got beef coming in, and I just talked to a guy about getting chicken in. We should have everything back to 100 percent by Wednesday at the latest, and most of it will be here by the weekend.”
The standoff lasted longer than employees expected, Dietz acknowledged. But, he insisted, the fight was worth it, and he was relieved to be back at the job he has held for 27 years.
“The mood here? Tears of joy, all right? Tears of joy,” he said. “Everybody’s happy that we’re back doing what we’re supposed to do be doing, which is the serving the customer.”
The workers seem little fazed by the challenges facing them — and the company. Finding enough food to fill a 71-store chain is straining Market Basket’s suppliers, at a time when the company’s financial condition has taken a huge hit.
At the store in Brockton a group of employees were watching a TV news broadcast that described the uphill battle the company is facing.
“Bring it on!” several cheered in response.
Store manager Glenn Connors, who has been with the company for 36 years, said he’s deeply relieved the saga has come to an end.
“This is in our rearview mirror now,” he said. “Our strategy is to move forward and get back to being a people-first business.”