When Shalonda Willis clocked into work at the Shrimp Basket on McFarland Boulevard Friday, she had no idea she'd be leaving in a brand new car.

That's what happened when she won the grand prize of a massive company-wide employee hiring incentive contest, though, and now Willis is the proud owner of a Chevrolet Trailblazer -- the first car she's ever owned.

Shrimp Basket is a seafood chain restaurant that operates in 20 different locations across the southeast. Based out of Pensacola, their restaurants can be found in Florida, Alabama and Mississippi.

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"In April, we were 215 employees short, when we were supposed to be hiring up for the summer," said Mark Kirke, President and COO of Shrimp Basket. "Our Director of Human Resources came to me and said 'I know this is crazy and a big idea, but what if we give away a car?' I thought 'No, we probably can't do that.'"

They pushed ahead, though, and the car giveaway became the grand prize of a massive hiring incentive program. Shrimp Basket instituted a lottery system, and every employee across all their locations got one entry into the pool for every 30 days they worked, and if they referred someone who eventually took a job in the company, they got another entry.

The hiring incentive applied to all employees at all locations, meaning the chances of winning the car were 1 in 1,200.

"As soon as we heard the winner was at the Tuscaloosa location, those numbers immediately went to 1 in 19," Kirke said.

The name was drawn by a third-party law firm to ensure complete fairness.

Willis, 34, is a Tuscaloosa resident that has worked at the Shrimp basket since August 2014, first as a host and now as a person-in-charge manager.

She told the Thread this is the first car she's ever owned and she is extremely grateful to the company.

"I lost my dad when I was 20. He was supposed to take me to get my license, but he never got the chance to do it," Willis said. "So I just never did get behind the wheel."

She waited to get her license for nearly a decade, and instead relied on her mother, boyfriend, sister and coworkers to get her where she needed to be.

"This shows they actually care and they really appreciate me," Willis said. "I can actually take my son places, and take him to soccer games and actually do things with him."

Other winners Friday took home two sideline tickets to Saturday's Crimson Tide vs Southern Miss game, and gift cards for a year's supply of Shrimp Basket.

"It's not all just about the car. These guys work hard, and we want to make sure they're taken care of," Kirke said. "We're also doing a retention bonus and a referral bonus as a sort of three-prong attack to keep people working."

The winner of the grand prize also gets to choose what color the car will be, and Willis told The Thread that she's going with a blue exterior, her favorite color.

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