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13 Investigates: Rockford restaurant sells gifts cards then closes without notice

ROCKFORD (WREX) — Gift cards to a barbecue restaurant in Rockford called “Big Papa’s” were supposed to be Christmas presents for friends and family. But the restaurant unexpectedly closed, leaving a handful of people with gift cards they can’t use.

Those people reached out to 13 Investigates to find out what happened and if they can get their money back.

“Basically what I have is a $50 gift certificate that I donated to the owners of the business,” said Penny Evans.

Big Papa’s on Forest Hills Road was Evans’ favorite place to get barbecue. She thought a $50 gift card would make a nice gift for her neighbors and on Dec. 4, 2018, she bought one. But after the holidays when her neighbor’s went to use it, the restaurant wasn’t open.

“There was a note on the door that said something about it being closed but they didn’t say they were closed permanently, it just said, ‘We’re closed,'” she said.

As the weeks turned into months, Big Papa’s never reopened. Evans reached out to 13 Investigates to find out what happened. We found out she’s not the only one stuck with a gift card that can’t be used.

“My sister’s pretty upset about it because that’s a $70 Christmas gift that my husband didn’t get,” said Julie Peppers.

Evans and Peppers are among nearly half-a-dozen people we tracked down who got gift cards from Big Papa’s in December ranging in value from $25 to $70. All together, those gift cards are worth $205.

Peppers said the owner gave no indication the business was about to close for good when her sister bought the gift card on Dec.17, 2019.

“I’m not the only one here it obviously affected. It’s right before Christmas and she knew. She probably knew that she was gonna close the doors,” Peppers said.

13 Investigates tried repeatedly to reach the owner of the business, Kimberly Anderson, but she did not return our calls. We did track down the landlord of Big Papa’s, Louis Capra, who said he doesn’t know why Anderson closed the business but he does know she owes a “significant amount” of money to him. He would not comment how much.

“In my opinion it’s theft. If you know that you’re not gonna be open you stole my money,” Evans said.

The Illinois Attorney General’s Office handles complaints like this but says, unfortunately, the people who bought the gift card may never get their money back.

It gave this statement to 13 Investigates saying in part: “The gift certificate is like any other liability — they are required to honor it, but if they go out of business, it often is due to financial hardship, and they may not have the ability to provide a refund.”

After weeks of investigating this issue, and the day before our story aired, 13 Investigates got a statement from Kimberly Anderson’s attorney who said:

“She (Kimberly Anderson) had not anticipated that she was going to close the business and she’s very sad that she was forced to do that, it was not planned at all.”

The attorney went on to tell us Anderson is going through a divorce and is dividing up and selling her assets. We asked if people who bought gift cards will be reimbursed. The attorney said, “She certainly will do whatever she can to make sure people are paid if there is money left over.”

If you have a story you want us to investigate, you can call our tip line at (815) 335-7890.

Kristin Crowley

Evening News Anchor
Kristin Crowley anchors the 5, 6 and 10 p.m. news. She is also a reporter for 13 Investigates. She brings more than a decade of experience to the newsroom. Her work at WREX has earned her multiple awards including a regional Edward R. Murrow for Investigative Journalism and three regional Emmys.

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