Dozens of people went without Thanksgiving dinner after Petaluma restaurant went bankrupt
Amy Malaise was so excited to order her Thanksgiving dinner at Petaluma’s April Pantry that she signed up in September for a gourmet meal of turkey, gravy, stuffing and a pie.
Like many others, she had heard a lot of good things about the caterer and wanted to support local businesses and make the holidays a bit easier for her family. For $ 140, it seemed like a deal.
She arrived at April Pantry on Thursday afternoon in front of a meandering line of growling customers and rumors that dinners were hours late. As the administrator of a local Facebook group, Petaluma Foodies, she said other foodies should manage expectations if they’ve ordered from April Pantry.
“I posted that there was a save and to have a little patience and maybe show up later because they were saved,” Malaise said.
But things took a turn for the worse from there, with at least 70 of the 180 orders unfulfilled at the end of the day, according to Amiee Demaris, owner of April Pantry.
Without a Thanksgiving dinner – or just a partial meal – customers were angry, Facebook foodies fumed, and Demaris was humbled by the holiday mess.
Demaris said a lack of staff created huge setbacks in the kitchen early on, ultimately leading to the Thanksgiving disaster. Like many restaurateurs, she struggles to find and keep staff at a time when hospitality workers are scarce.
She said she applied for 10 temporary workers from a recruitment agency, but her request was not met at the last moment. Several other cooks, she hoped, would help her fill orders that were canceled at the last minute. With two of her regular employees already out for the day, she quickly ended up trying to cook up meals with her husband, sister, and several delivery drivers who rushed to help her.
In the end, that wasn’t enough to get orders filled, even when a member of the Petaluma Foodies group, Shinaide Villa, showed up to help in the kitchen.
Villa, the owner of Spoonful of Sugar, a home bakery, said she saw a Facebook post asking for help with the cooking and decided to give it a go.
“They were definitely in the weeds. I helped in the kitchen prepare, pack and place orders, ”she said.
“I felt so bad for (Demaris). I saw all these families say that they had been waiting for hours, ”she says, having worked from 3pm to 7pm as a volunteer.
After the hubbub of the day, Demaris is grateful for the help and sorry for letting her clients down.
“We probably sold too many meals knowing there were staff issues. I was in a delusional state that we could do this with the staff we had, ”she said. “I thought everything would be fine, but even two weeks ago I had difficulty finding help from the staff,” she added.
Working for several days without a break with her husband, she tried to prepare the meals and bake the pies. But Thursday, as the queue outside grew and customers grew more and more restless, she knew they were going to run out of time.
“It was awful. Honestly, I thought the whole time we would get there. But at one point we had squares of turkeys that weren’t even cooked yet,” she said.
“I’m so sorry and handled things the best way I could. I made a bad decision and should have canceled. It would have been the prudent thing to do. I’m just going to have to look at myself, she said, crying.
The incident unfolded in real time on social media, with some members of the Petaluma Foodies group posting furious missives that Malaise tried to deal with while waiting for his meal.
“I just wanted to be supportive and kind (for the company). It has been a difficult year and I wanted to extend all the grace that I can, ”she said.
Alex Horvath, who waited for his meal for hours, said at one point more than 100 people were in line and it wasn’t moving at all. He also posted on the Petaluma Foodies Group about his experience.
After two hours of waiting, he gave up, thinking that if he had a meal, it probably wouldn’t be very good. His fears were confirmed by others on the Petaluma Foodies page who said if they received food they only received partial orders.
Instead of a big Thanksgiving meal, Horvath and his wife ate the appetizers they had made and a pecan pie.
“Listen, if you want to do a big restoration job like this, you have to do it the day before. There were about a hundred people in line, and someone could have come and told us so that we could make other arrangements. Instead, they were posting on social media, ”Horvath said.
April Pantry owner Demaris said she tried several ways to get her message across to people waiting, including social media, and asked her sister to line up and get the numbers phone numbers of people who were waiting. Demaris plans to offer refunds or special Christmas dinners to those who have not had their meals.
Horvath and Malaise said they were going to forgo Christmas meals, not wanting another holiday snafu.
“I am of the spirit, deceive me once…” Horvath said of the idiom, deceive me once, shame on you; Cheat on me twice, shame on me. However, he doesn’t completely give up on April Pantry.
“The people of Petaluma and Sonoma County are very forgiving. They don’t want his business to shut down because of it, and they’re willing to view the (Christmas dinner deals) as reasonable accommodation. Looks like staff and time were issues. Hopefully in the spring or summer I can get one of their BLT killers again, ”Horvath said.
Malaise, who received part of his order, also takes it in stride.
“Thanksgiving is a big celebration and we attach great importance to food. You bet on this wonderful meal and wait and get nothing? I really hope they can rally around this, ”she said.
“I was upset, but it has been a difficult year. For most of us who were in line, we realized we were lucky to be able to buy something like this in the first place. I think we’re all going to live, ”she said.