Yesterday, longtime DUMBO gastropub and indie screening room reBar abruptly closed amid claims of bankruptcy. Owner Jason Stevens put up signs at the restaurant sometime early Friday morning, and sent managers a brief email reading in full: "reBar is bankrupt and closed. Please dispose of your keys and do not enter the premises. Please forward to any staff not included." Over 200 couples who had weddings and events booked at reBar through 2016 were devastated by the shocking news, with many only learning about it after reading our coverage yesterday. But former reBar employees and many local businesses have stepped up to try to help those couples salvage their weddings.
It's important that we emphasize here that the employees of reBar were screwed along with the couples: we've spoken to at least 10 employees over the last 24 hours, none of whom had any idea that this was coming. Yesterday was supposed to be payday, so none of the employees have been paid in at least two weeks—and in the case of 36-year-old Dina Thaverne, it was closer to three weeks without pay.
"You want to go bankrupt?," said Kyle, a former dishwasher who was hanging around reBar on Friday along with other dazed employees. "Fine. Pay us off and go your way. But this is severe. I work hard. It's not easy. It's not right, I don't find it right."
Former employees at ReBar on Friday (Ben Miller/Gothamist)
Employees spent all day yesterday trying to get the events that were supposed to take place this weekend—a surprise 40th birthday party and two weddings—settled, spearheaded by Tyler Lindsay, former Director of Events, and Katherine Cassel, former Special Events Coordinator. Many of those employees offered to work for free for this weekend's events, before concentrating on the next ones in coming weeks.
They sent this email out to couples late Friday:
Dear reBar Brides and Grooms,
As some of you may have heard, earlier today reBar abruptly shut down due to alleged bankruptcy. This news has come as a complete shock to us. This morning we received an email stating that reBar was bankrupt and closed and that we were to dispose of our keys and not enter the premises. At this time we have no further information on the situation. Jason Stevens, the owner of reBar, has not been reachable and no one knows of his whereabouts. Unfortunately, we cannot provide any other information as we, ourselves, have no idea what is going on.
Regardless of the instructions received to not enter reBar we have continued to work, not as reBar employees but on our own accord, to help our remaining Brides and Grooms continue to carry out their wedding plans. We have spent the entire day assisting this weekend’s wedding couples to find new venues and vendors. We have reached out to multiple venues/vendors to get any assistance that we could find. We are both grateful and amazed by how the event planning community has banded together to help our Brides and Grooms in any way that they can. As such, we have compiled a list of venues and vendors... who have offered their help - whether it be at discounted rates or free of charge.
We are so sorry for what has happened here today and we cannot even fathom what you may be experiencing. We have done what we can as former reBar employees to try to make things right and we wish you the absolute best in your planning endeavors.
With our deepest regrets,
Tyler and Katherine
You can see that list below:
Not included on that list: Brooklyn Historical Society. Special Events Coordinator Daisy Lee writes:
Please let the Rebar couples know that we feel awful for their situation and we would like to reach out and welcome them to Brooklyn Historical Society. We still have many 2014-2015 event dates available and we will extend a special rate just for them. We are located in nearby Brooklyn Heights and we are known as a museum and history center as well as our beautiful Othmer Library, housed in our distinctive building. Please contact us at 718.222.4111 or firstname.lastname@example.org and we will get back to all requests ASAP.
Katherine and Tyler sent a few followup emails with more information about possible lawsuits:
Many of you have emailed back, requesting information about your deposits and the money you have paid to book weddings at reBar. I am sad to say that I have no information at this time how that money can be recovered. As most of you are aware, Katherine and I merely planned the events. We did not build contracts, negotiate deals or accept payments. We did not even have access to account balances, payment histories, etc. Jason and the book keeper dealt with all of that. Additionally, I do not have Jason’s home address or know of his whereabouts.
My recommendation is to speak with a lawyer, obviously, and if you paid with a credit card, contact your credit card companies. Furthermore, there are a number of class action lawsuits in development. Christian, a groom who had booked reBar for October 2015 has asked me to give out his email- he is interested in taking legal action. There have been others who have mentioned it as well. Chris’ email is email@example.com.
If any other local businesses want to reach out to couples, you can try emailing Tyler and Katherine at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com. Other people who want to contribute can do so at this Indiegogo campaign.
Julie Villar, whose wedding was planned for May 25th, is trying to organize people for a lawsuit as well: "What he's done to us is vile, and what he's done to the employees is equally vile." She told us she and her fiancé spent around $20K on the wedding, and now have to spend at least another $15K to try to make it happen that day (they have family coming in from England and around the US). She's also been in touch with about 8-10 couples who she says are willing to join in on a class action lawsuit. You can get in touch with her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"He was talking to one woman about his kids, literally last week," Villar added. "He was laughing and joking with them, telling them all about his kids. He really made you feel like you were going to be part of this community. You know, 'we're not the wedding industrial complex.' Except obviously the wedding industrial complex must have something behind it because they don't take your money and run."
Matteo Ruggiu and his fiancé Margaret were supposed to have their wedding at reBar Sunday; they paid the entire cost of the wedding (nearly $15K) upfront to Stevens in January. They've now had to shell out over $10K more to make sure they can still get married this weekend. With help from some former reBar employees, they were able to secure another venue: "Katherine Cassell (the coordinator) and Ben Carlin (the DJ) enthusiastically agreed to still come to the wedding, and will be there tomorrow to help us and support us...They have been nothing short than phenomenal."
Ruggiu also told us that he spoke to Stevens on the phone as recently as this past Wednesday—about giving reBar a final check. "There was no obvious indication that something was wrong except for the fact that, for this final bill, Stevens made some mistakes repeatedly...he undercharged us by several hundred dollars. It took a few emails and a phone call to finally get the correct bill. I found this surprising for somebody with a finance background. If that was an indication of his accounting skills, perhaps it's no surprise he went bankrupt. We then went to reBar on Thursday to bring wedding-related items and wrote the final check, but did not see Stevens that day."
reBar on Friday (Ben Miller/Gothamist)
Another couple wrote us to praise the former reBar employees as well:
They all went to reBar on their own and got to work helping the couples who have weddings this weekend. They also compiled a long list of vendors who are offering to help those of us who need replacements and have lost a bunch of money.
It's incredible what they're doing of their own accord, when even their own lives have been put in turmoil. Whatever the owner's story, the (now former) reBar staff are some pretty amazing people. I received the email from them at 10:30pm tonight—which means they're working some serious hours with no promise of pay just to help us out. I think that deserves some real recognition.
Danielle Scally, a former server at reBar, sent us this statement on behalf of the entire staff:
It may be to late to comment on the reBar situation, but I had to let it stew for a little bit to truly get a handle on what is going on. What I see is it boils down to a man who had little respect for the people around him. As staff members we bent over backwards to help make Rebar what it was. We went through so many issues with Jason, including not getting paid many times or our checks bouncing. However, for us the staff, the show must go on. We made EVERY attempt to make the weddings a special day for our clients. We danced with them, cried with them, and saw them on their one, two, three year anniversaries. It is very devastating for us as workers to not get paid for our hard work, but even more so for these couples who spent thousands on a wedding that is never going to happen. What kind of person does that? Jason Stevens.
On behalf of the staff members I would like to extend our deepest regards to those impacted by this situation. We all got together yesterday and the consensus of the conversation always ended in... "Those poor couples." If we could reopen reBar as a team we would work every wedding booked, but that doesn't seem like it will be our reality. Again, to the couples we are genuinely sorry. I found a website dedicated to help these couples, please share: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/help-the-canceled-rebar-weddings#description
To Jason, if you read this. You destroyed not just the lives of your staff, but the fact that you were taking deposits until Wednesday is disgusting. You will never know the impact of this situation because you decided to be a coward instead of face your problems. You are not the only one with a family and responsibilities. We as a TEAM had to clean up your mess and deal with crying couples who were enraged because you took everything they had. You are a monster.
Former Rebar staff
[addition reporting by Ben Miller and Jen Chung]