HICKORY, N.C. - Police in Hickory are trying to determine if three armed robberies at restaurants are the work of the same person.
In the most recent case, an employee was kidnapped at gunpoint during the robbery.
One of the employees at Tripps restaurant on Lenoir-Rhyne Boulevard in Hickory said they had just closed up and he had gotten into his car when he was confronted by a masked gunman and ordered back into the restaurant.
Police said the business had just closed when two employees were robbed at gunpoint and ordered back inside to open the safe.
"We just got robbed at gunpoint and he took my assistant manager with him hostage. I don't know where they went," said a caller on a 911 call.
Police said the robber forced the assistant manager to drive across the four-lane highway and into the entrance of a Red Roof Inn where he jumped out. That employee was not hurt during the ordeal.
The robbery comes after someone robbed a Burger King in northeast Hickory twice this month at closing time, again trying to get into the business' safe.
Nearby restaurants like the Mellow Mushroom are already taking precautions, making their rear door more secure with a surveillance camera nearby and adding a doorbell for employee access.
"Very unnerving. I close all the time. I'm here by myself all the time. Won't do that anymore. I definitely will make sure I have someone else here with me," employee Danielle Siers said.
Police said that is good advice. At this point, they have only a vague description in all three robberies: a man who is 5 feet 10 inches tall with a slender build and weighing about 140 pounds.
"We would suggest that the employees go out as a group to their cars and leave as a group all together in the parking lots," said Hickory police Sgt. Andy Kerley.
Police said they plan on stepping up patrols around restaurants in the area and said they are even willing to come to a business if an employee has a concern.