CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Charles Rivers, a.k.a. Chip Nutty, recently started taping red cards to the top of his bakery boxes, reading "this season we can think of no better gift for your friends than our company's stock."
Well, Ralph Gonas can't think of a worse gift. Or, he now worries, a worse friend. But it wasn't always that way.
"[Rivers] was a real friend to us. We got to know him in the barn yard flea market back a couple years ago. He was selling cookies one hot summer day."
Since then, Rivers convinced Gonas to invest almost $60,000 in the Chip Nutty franchise. He swore it would go national. He even had Gonas pose for posters.
"We were going to be his mascot as time went on, we were supposed to be on several TV commercials talking about the quadruple crunch donut," Gonas says wistfully.
Chip Nutty developed a real fan base. Everything seemed to be going great.
"It was taking off a little bit better every week," Gonas says. And he dutifully checked in every day, where it appeared Rivers and his wife were working non-stop.
"They were working almost sixteen, seventeen hours a day if not more," he says.
Gonas says they'd even sleep here in this back room of the South Boulevard bakery, some times with their young son, he assumed because they were exhausted.
But last week, Gonas showed up to find the place stripped bare by disgruntled employees...they hadn't been paid...Chip Nutty stopped showing up.
"It just seems like a total mystery," Gonas says. "Did the guy get held up and forced out at gunpoint or did something else happen? Did he vanish on his own? We don't know."
The police have been called. Rivers and his family simply seem gone. But so, Gonas says, are all of Chip Nutty's recipes.