Help! Right after I bought Carmel Kitchen gift cards, the restaurant closed

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By Christopher Elliott

Shortly after Etta Lazarus buys $381 in Carmel Kitchen gift card credit, the restaurant closes. The chain won’t refund her money. Is she stuck with a useless piece of plastic?


I recently purchased $381 worth of gift cards from Carmel Kitchen, a local restaurant that has been at the same location in the Orlando area for many years. The restaurant closed permanently a few weeks ago.

I contacted one of their other locations, which referred me to a regional manager. I requested a refund by email. The manager replied that we are welcome to use the cards at their location in Tampa, but refused to refund the money.

Tampa is a three-hour round trip by car. Carmel is a fairly nice restaurant, but my husband and I are in our 70s and are driving less now. It would be difficult for us to get to their other locations. Obviously, they knew when they sold us the gift cards that they would be closing the Orlando location.

We are on a fixed income and I can’t imagine why they think it is OK to keep our money if they can’t provide the service promised when we purchased the cards. I would like a refund of the $381, which is the balance now on gift cards and which was the amount paid for them. Can you help? — Etta Lazarus, Winter Park, Fla.


I’m sorry your local Carmel Kitchen went out of business, leaving you with gift cards that were difficult, if not impossible, to redeem.

I reviewed the timeline of your purchase. You bought the gift cards in November. Carmel Kitchen decided to close its Winter Park location in mid-January. I’m not sure if the people who sold you the gift cards knew they’d be out of a job when you visited last year.

The terms of your gift cards– if you want to call them that — make no guarantee about a location being available. It reminds me of a gift card I received from my sister a few years ago for a West Coast restaurant chain. At the time, I lived on the East Coast. Oh well, thanks anyway!

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A fair resolution from Carmel Kitchen?

From the point of view of a struggling restaurant chain, the solution seemed fair. If you like Carmel Kitchen enough to buy $381 in gift cards, then a one-and-a-half hour drive to Tampa shouldn’t be a big deal.

But from your point of view, it wasn’t. Carmel Kitchen couldn’t have known you were not up for a road trip, and your statement about being on a “fixed income” doesn’t really fly at an upscale restaurant in Winter Park.

Tracking down the owners of Carmel Kitchen isn’t that difficult. They’re the subjects of numerous newspaper profiles. One of the best ways to get in touch with them is through a foundation they run.

Getting out of the (Carmel) kitchen

I have mixed feelings about your case. I can completely understand your point of view. You thought you’d purchased a gift card for the Carmel Kitchen in Winter Park. But it turns out you’d really given your money to the Carmel Kitchen restaurant chain, a company that was more than willing to take your money. (Related: Time to buy? Here’s what the salespeople won’t tell you.)

If nothing else, this is a lesson about the value of gift cards. Next time, why not just use real money to pay for a nice dinner with your family? Why give the money to a company, allowing it to place restrictions on where and when it can be spent? And why run the risk of that restaurant going out of business? (Here’s my ultimate guide to travel food.)

Dwayne Coward, one of our advocates who you can reach through our helpline, contacted Carmel Kitchen on your behalf. The company agreed to fully refund your $381.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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