Make us your home page

Sam Seltzer's Steakhouse customers left in gift card lurch

Employees weren't the only ones stung by the sudden closing of Sam Seltzer's Steakhouse on Monday.

Customers who bought or held gift cards — some sold as recently as one day before the chain's last in business — appear to have nowhere to cash them in after all six stores in Florida locked their doors.

"I just bought $172 in gift cards," said Alan Cohen, a New Port Richey retiree. "It's really upsetting."

Bernice Ingold, also a New Port Richey retiree, dined at Sam Seltzer's on gift cards Saturday, then bought some more.

"I thought $100 for a $120 gift card was a good deal, but it turned out to be pretty dirty," she said.

Some bought or received what they fear are worthless Mother's Day gifts. Others are stuck with $20 cards Pasco County hospital bought to reward volunteers.

It's another textbook case in the downside of consumers growing appetite for gift cards: they can turn worthless fast.

Sam Seltzer's officials offered no instruction for gift cardholders in a press statement announcing the closing, could not be reached for comment again Tuesday and left the doors locked at corporate headquarters in Tampa.

The closing gave other customers heartburn.

The Classic Christian School of the Arts, for instance, is scrambling to find another caterer for its $50-a-plate, 186-seat black tie Masquerade Ball fundraiser in 10 days.

"It's been just horrendous to find someone who can do that much steak on short notice," said Linda Klehammer, who serves on the organizing committee for the Pinellas Park school. "Sam Seltzer's never even called."

"Surely somebody knew they were about to close when they took and kept our deposit a couple months ago," said school director Sylvia Baker.

Customers could wait to file claims should the company file a second time for bankruptcy to liquidate assets and settle with creditors.

But that can take time, plus you compete with higher priority creditors for what could be less than you're owed, said Terry McElroy, a spokesman for the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs.

"If people file a complaint with us, we will investigate and sometimes we can mediate," he said.

Brea Greene, an investigator with Pinellas County Department of Justice and Consumer Protection, suggests immediately disputing charges with the credit card issuer if the purchase was recent.

Card holders also can file a complaint with consumer protection if they think there was intent to fraud.

Mike Naklick, a South Pasadena retiree, was able to spend down his $240 gift card balance to $80 by Saturday. But he finds how the company handled its impending end "really underhanded."

"I know they cured me of ever buying gift cards again," he said.

Mark Albright can be reached at or (727) 893-8252.

Sam Seltzer's Steakhouse customers left in gift card lurch 05/18/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 18, 2010 11:13pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Starbucks to close all Teavana locations, including five in Tampa Bay


    Local Teavana locations include Tyrone Square in St. Petersburg, International Plaza and Westfield Citrus Park in Tampa, Brandon and Clearwater.

    Starbucks announced Thursday plans to shut down all 379 Teavana stores, citing "underperformance." Starbucks acquired the mall-based tea chain for $620 million in 2012. [ CANDICE CHOI | AP file photo]
  2. Trigaux: Closing Iron Yard coding school hits area tech hard but leaders talk of options


    The coming shutdown this fall of the Iron Yard software coding school in downtown St. Petersburg — announced this month as part of a national closing of all 15 Iron Yard locations — remains a shocking event to a Tampa Bay technology community that dreams big of becoming a major player in the Southeast if not …

    In better days last fall, friends and family of graduates at The Iron Yard, based in the Station House in downtown St. Petersburg, applaud during "Demo Day" when grads of the coding school show off their skills. Despite the local success and strong job placement by the coding school, The Iron Yard is closing all of its 15 locations across the country this summer. [LARA CERRI   |   Times]
  3. U.S. economy gathers steam in second quarter


    WASHINGTON — The U.S. economy revved up this spring after a weak start to the year, fueled by strong consumer spending. But the growth spurt still fell short of the optimistic goals President Donald Trump hopes to achieve through tax cuts and regulatory relief.

    A government report released Friday showed economic output picked up in the second quarter. 
[Associated Press file photo]
  4. Founder of Tampa home sharing platform questions Airbnb, NAACP partnership


    TAMPA — A Tampa rival to Airbnb, which was launched because of discrimination complaints on the dominant home sharing platform, has concerns about the new partnership between Airbnb and NAACP announced this week.

    Rohan Gilkes poses for a portrait at his home and business headquarters in Tampa. 

Innclusive, a Tampa-based start-up, is a home-sharing platform that focuses on providing a positive traveling experience for minorities. [CHARLIE KAIJO | Times]
  5. Appointments at Port Tampa Bay and Tampa General Medical Group highlight this week's Tampa Bay business Movers & Shakers



    Port Tampa Bay announced that Jamal Sowell has been named director of special projects. Sowell, a former member of the U.S.Marine Corps, will support internal, external and special projects, assist the executive team with management oversight and serve as a liaison on a variety of port …

    Port Tampa Bay announced this week that Jamal Sowell has been named director of special projects. [Handout photo]