SEATTLE – Bill the Butcher Seattle-area stores closed in October, and now several former employees are suing CEO J’Amy Owens for $50,000 in unpaid wages. Owens allegedly disappeared after the company received a $100,000 tax refund that Owens refused to use for payroll. Her former employees believe Owens has left town or has gone into hiding, according to news reports.

In November, a King County Superior Court judge issued a temporary restraining order barring Owens from withdrawing and spending the tax refund, according to court records.

The Bill the Butcher chain was founded in 2009 with the intent to support small farmers and ranchers that use sustainable meat production practices, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing. Products included pasture-raised beef, pork, chicken and lamb. The company’s brand promise is to sell meat free from hormones, antibiotics, steroids or genetically modified feed.

In January 2013, the company opened a new shop in Edmonds, Wash. and another new shop in the Seattle neighborhood of Wallingford in June of the same year. In its SEC filing, the company planned on opening additional stores, such as a location in Kirkland within approximately one mile from Google Inc.'s Seattle headquarters.

Sales for the three months ended May 31, 2014, were $494,000, up from $248,000. Same-store sales jumped 48 percent during the year compared to the year-ago period, according to the earnings statement filed with the SEC.

Financial statements also report the company received more than $3 million from equity and debt financings, and more than $5 million since 2010.

"We have restructured the secured convertible debt into a new senior credit facility and signed loan extensions from all but one of the secured creditors," the company said in earnings statements. "The majority of our debt is subject to conversion to common stock at a near term financing benchmark."

By September 2013, Bill the Butcher launched the American Sustainability Project, a wholly owned subsidiary comprised of like-minded meat suppliers who would engage and educate chefs, restaurants and retailers about the company. Bill the Butcher also executed agreements to acquire the Great Northern Cattle Co., a grass-fed beef supplier, with gross revenues in excess of $3 million. Great Northern Cattle was to be the first member of the American Sustainability Project.

The company also launched a new Bill the Butcher website with the intent to begin online sales of the company's products.