Make us your home page

Bankruptcy erases value of buffet's gift cards

NEW PORT RICHEY — Claude Howard liked to take his lady friend to Barnhill's Buffet every day for lunch. So when the restaurant sold discounted gift cards last December, the couple bought nearly $500 worth to support their daily ritual.

This worked just fine until one day last month. That was when Howard pulled out his card — only to learn the last $38 was worthless.

Turned out Barnhill's parent company had filed for bankruptcy in Tennessee on Dec. 3. On Feb. 1 it sold 16 of its 41 locations, including the one in New Port Richey, to an Arizona company that was not honoring the gift cards.

Howard didn't appreciate the news. He refused to budge from the register line until the manager reluctantly agreed to accept the remaining balance on the cards. But he saw other customers who didn't put up a fight.

"What if this had been my first date?" said Howard, 80. "What a horrible (public relations) move to not honor those cards."

Howard and an untold number of others are learning a tough lesson about the risks of gift cards.

Chapter 11 bankruptcy treats gift cards as a loan to a company, not as cash. What this means, according to consumer advocates: Be very careful about where you buy gift cards.

"Consumers need to buy gift cards with their eyes wide open," said Jack Gillis, a spokesman for the Consumer Federation of America.

The CEO of Star Buffet Management, the Scottsdale-based company that bought 16 Barnhill's restaurants on Feb. 1, told the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal that his company bought only the operating assets and assumed no liabilities other than real estate. A gift card holder, he pointed out, is an unsecured creditor in bankruptcy court.

Barnhill's gift card holders are not alone. Sharper Image announced last month that it was suspending the acceptance of gift cards, at least temporarily, after it filed for bankruptcy protection.

C. Britt Beemer, chairman of America's Research Group, told the Associated Press "you will see a lot of frustration among customers. You basically stole (money) out of the customers' pocket. They will never forgive you."

Count Don Bailey, 84, of Hudson, as one person in a non-forgiving mood. He received a $50 Barnhill's gift card for Christmas. He wondered why the restaurant sold the card after it had already filed for bankruptcy protection. He wondered whether the new owner would step up.

"We won't be going back," he said. "I said if somebody buys a business, they should take over the debts of the previous owner. You'd think they'd want to keep a good reputation."

So what recourse do customers have?

After Mississippi customers complained to the newspaper, Star Buffet's CEO announced that he had instructed managers at the 16 new locations, including New Port Richey, to accept gift cards with $25 or less on them.

And this week, the Nashville-based bankruptcy lawyer who represents the former owner, Tennessee-based Barnhill's Buffet Inc., told the Pasco Times in an e-mail that customers who purchased cards of any value between Dec. 3 and Jan. 31 are entitled to refunds from his client.

Told about the latest options for customers, Howard said he's still upset with the way the issue was handled. He doesn't think he'll go back to Barnhill's.

"I think it was about the dumbest corporate decision I ever heard in my life," he said.

Information from an Associated Press report was used in this story. Jodie Tillman can be reached at or (727) 869-6247.


If you have a card

Barnhill's Buffet gift card holders who bought their cards in a specific window of time — from Dec. 3, 2007 to Jan. 31 — are entitled to refunds, said Caldwell Hancock, bankruptcy lawyer for the former owner, Barnhill's Buffet Inc.

Here is how to get it:

E-mail Stacey Gleixner at, the controller for the bankruptcy estate.

Or write her at:

Barnhill's Buffet Inc.

Attn: Stacey Gleixner,


1210 Briarville Road,

Building F

Madison, TN 37115

Card holders need to include photocopies of the front and back of the card, provide what they believe is the remaining balance and include their contact information.

Bankruptcy erases value of buffet's gift cards 03/05/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 5, 2008 8:52pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Trigaux: Tampa Bay household income tops $50,000 but still makes us look poor

    Personal Finance

    The good news is Tampa Bay's median household income finally crawled above $50,000 last year. The bad news is that figure — officially $51,115 by new U.S. Census Bureau data — still puts the Tampa Bay region as the poorest of the nation's 25 largest metro areas.

    Tampa Bay still has the lowest median household income among the 25 most populous metro areas, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.
  2. Make-A-Wish Foundation aims to help more kids in Tampa Bay


    The Make-A-Wish Foundation is on the lookout for sick children in the Tampa Bay area who need a once-in-a-lifetime pick-me-up.

    Grace Savage, a 10-year-old girl with a chromosomal disorder made a trek to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium last year, courtesy of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. The foundation intends to beef up its presence in the Tampa Bay area after a reorganization. The region is now the responsibility of the foundation's Southern Florida chapter, one of the most active in the country, with more than 11,000 wishes granted so far. [JIM DAMASKE   |   Times ]
  3. Florida hides details in nursing home reports. Federal agencies don't.


    TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott widened his offensive Thursday against the Broward nursing home he blames for the deaths of 10 residents by setting up a tip line for information, but when it comes to access to the inspection reports of all nursing homes, the governor's administration has heavily censored what the …

    In the foreground is a document detailing the findings of a Feb. 2016 inspection at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills obtained from a federal agency, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Behind it is the state?€™s version of the same document, from the Agency for Health Care Administration, showing how it has been redacted before being released to the public. [Miami Herald]
  4. 'Toxic' times: How repeal of Florida's tax on services reverberates, 30 years later

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — Long before Hurricane Irma attacked Florida, the state faced a troubled fiscal future that the storm will only make worse.

    Robertson says the tax debate is now “toxic.”
  5. Fewer Tampa Bay homeowners are underwater on their mortgages

    Real Estate

    The percentage of Tampa Bay homeowners underwater on their mortgages continues to drop. In the second quarter of this year, 10.2 percent of borrowers had negative equity compared to nearly 15 percent in the same period a year ago, CoreLogic reported Thursday. Nationally, 5.4 percent of all mortgaged homes were …

    The percentage of Tampa Bay homeowners underwater on their mortgages  continues to drop. [Times file photo]