Decatur chicken facility is shuttered

Sign at the city limits of Decatur. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/FILE PHOTO)
Sign at the city limits of Decatur. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/FILE PHOTO)

A heritage chicken operation has closed its processing plants in Decatur and in Jay, Okla., leaving more than 200 people without work in Jay alone.

Michelle Bish, executive director of the Northeast Oklahoma Workforce Development Board, confirmed on Friday that the Jay plant had closed, with layoffs beginning on Nov. 20. More than 200 employees at the plant were left without jobs.

The job cuts are considered permanent, Bish said.

The Oklahoma Employment Security Commission has staff at the Jay Community Center to help former plant workers fill out applications for unemployment benefits, Bish said.

Commission staff can also help people who are interested apply for job training paid for by the state, Bish said.

The commission also plans to hold a hiring event on Dec. 7, Bish said, with a number of companies present to take applications and meet with job seekers.

Other news organizations have reported that Cooks Venture's Decatur plant closed at the same time as the one in Jay when financing to keep the company running fell through. It is unclear how many people were working at the Decatur plant.

Decatur Mayor Bob Tharp didn't immediately return messages on Friday seeking comment on the Arkansas part of Cooks Venture's operations.

Arkansas' Division of Workforce Services website says it "does not publish or disseminate specific company data, including WARN [Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act] notices, due to confidentiality requirements."

Cooks Venture Inc. was founded in March 2018, according to Crunchbase. It bought Crystal Lake Farms, a free-range chicken company in Decatur that went out of business in the summer of 2018.

Crystal Lake Farms was founded by Blake Evans, grandson of the late poultry magnate Lloyd Peterson.

Matthew Wadiak, who helped found the meal-kit delivery service Blue Apron, founded Cooks Venture and initially served as its chief executive officer. In August, Cooks Venture said that John Niemann had been appointed its new chief executive. The news release made no mention of Wadiak.

Evans remains with Cooks Venture, serving as executive vice president since 2019, according to his LinkedIn page.