Mother's Day brunch at Willie's Locally Known was free Sunday, but that's not what owner Wilson Sebastian III had intended.
The restaurant's recently hired executive chef didn't report to work Sunday morning, and money was missing that was needed to buy some of the brunch ingredients.
The restaurant and music venue, at 805 North Broadway, was in chaos, Sebastian said.
But with 60 families scheduled to attend the brunch, "we didn't want to ruin Mother's Day" for them, he said. That's when he decided breakfast would be free.
So Wilson made several trips to the store, and Willie's on Sunday served grits, eggs, bacon, biscuits with sausage gravy, and fruit to more than 150 patrons.
Keeping up with the crowd required help from more than the restaurant's employees.
Janie Rardin, Sebastian's girlfriend, threw on an apron to help with tables. The band, Lee Carroll's Home Cooking Soul Jazz Trio, played for free, and some of the musicians helped sweep floors.
Sebastian said the missing chef had been at the restaurant about 10 days, and his 90-day probationary period was waived a few days into the job.
"It's tough when people let you down," Sebastian said. "It's a part of the cost of doing business. I guess I'll chalk it up as a lesson learned."
Monica Coote was sitting on the deck Sunday with her husband, Chris, and daughter Rachel. By they time they arrived at Willie's, the breakfast food was gone.
Instead, "They brought out a sample of everything they had (on the regular menu), and it was wonderful," Monica Coote said.
"Nobody skipped a beat," Chris Coote said. "Hats off to them."
Sebastian said Willie's, which he opened two years ago, lost about $2,000 Sunday, something no small business can afford.
But for now, he's just happy the restaurant made it through another day.
"We aren't selling barbecue, beer, bourbon. We have those things, but we're selling a return visit," Sebastian said.
And in the meantime, he is looking for a new executive chef.
Justin Madden: (859) 231-3197. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety.