Hundreds with Dakota Steakhouse gift cards seek money back


PITTSFIELD -- The company that owns the Dakota Steakhouse on Friday said it will try to reimburse patrons who are holding gift cards to the now-closed restaurant and it is working to respond "as soon as possible" to a swarm of calls on the matter.

In an email message, Susan Schulze-Claasen, managing member of Pittsfield DWH LLC of San Diego, said she has already returned the telephone calls of 70 gift card-holders since the Dakota closed on Sunday. Hundreds of people have inquired, according to the restaurant's general manager.

She said the company is currently working with authorities and its secured creditor seeking to "utilize our remaining resources, sales proceeds and assets" to pay off bills. The companies that owned the Dakota and some affiliated restaurants filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in April 2011.

"As they are successful I will update the gift card holders," Schulze-Claasen said.

The Dakota, which had operated in Pittsfield since 1984, closed abruptly after dinner was served on Sunday night. Since then, both The Eagle, and local employees manning the phones at the restaurant's office on South Street, have received numerous calls from patrons seeking information on how they redeem gift cards. The Eagle also has received several email messages.

Patrons were advised by local Dakota employees to contact the parent company in San Diego -- and the Eagle published the company's phone number, which was provided by the local staffers.

People who have Dakota Steakhouse gift cards are now being instructed to send inquiries to Susan Schulze-Claasen, managing member of Pittsfield DWH LLC, at 8057 Raytheon Road #1, San Diego, CA 92111. Any written correspondence should include name, address, and gift card number.

Since then, numerous patrons have contacted the Eagle, and all but one of them said they have yet to receive a response. Several people have called more than once. Many said their calls have gone directly to voice mail.

Jennifer Isenhart, of Pittsfield, said she talked to a bookkeeper at the San Diego office when she called for the first time on Monday.

"He said he was just learning about this, and said to call back later," said Isenhart, who has a $50 gift card.

As of Friday morning, Isenhart said she had called seven more times and received no response.

"It's frustrating," she said.

Douglas Hartnett, the Dakota's general manager, said office staff have been inundated with phone calls from gift card holders since the restaurant closed.

"How many phone calls? Probably in the hundreds," Hartnett said. "I probably got almost 200 on Monday."

He said the phone calls began to subside on Tuesday when The Eagle's story was published, but began to resume again on Wednesday.

"We got a bunch of phone calls from people who were not getting through," Hartnett said. "My understanding is that there's only one person at the office who can answer the phones."

Hartnett said he personally spoke with representatives of Pittsfield DWH LLC on Thursday.

"They said they had over 200 calls stacked up that they needed to return and that they needed to work on it," he said. "I don't know what they're telling people, but they did say they were trying to get to people."

In her email, Schulze-Claasen said the company had been "optimistic" that it could meet its financial obligations in the wake of its Chapter 11 proceeding.

"We were optimistic that we could remain current and pay back obligations on payment terms," she said. "That became impossible when our cash and credit card receipts were attached and then seized by government entities."

To reach Tony Dobrowolski:

(413) 496-6224


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