I think all of the Weddingbee readers at the time held their breath with Mrs. Squid and the ReBar debacle! An update from so many couples and their happy endings after such a disaster was so nice to see!
Eight months ago on a Friday morning like any other, I received news that our original wedding venue, reBar, unexpectedly shut down citing bankruptcy. Actually, I have someone in the hive to thank for alerting me to reBar’s closing—the news broke on Gothamist, an online newspaper I don’t usually read. In the days and weeks immediately following their closing, I shared with you my anger and sadness, my saving grace that was wedding insurance, and the conflicted feelings I had when we booked our new venue. What I didn’t share with you are the details that eventually emerged, the real reason reBar closed up shop, what became of its scumbag owner, and the fabulous weddings that happened even in the face of devastating loss. And while I’m waiting on professional photos, now is as good a time as any, right?
Image via Gothamist
The real reason reBar shut down? Not bankruptcy. The owner, Jason Stevens, had been committing tax evasion for several years to the tune of $1.4 million. Word on the street is that the IRS was onto Stevens and were coming to shut reBar down. Instead of facing the music, Stevens gathered the cash in the tills and the wedding deposit checks waiting to be cashed, and fled in the middle of the night. (Particularly blood boiling detail: Stevens was still taking checks from couples in the week leading up to shutting down. I’ll never believe that he didn’t see his demise coming by then.) Without explanation, managers were told to dispose of their keys and to not to come to work the next day. True, we wouldn’t have been able to continue with plans at reBar whether or not Stevens fled, but his cowardly act left all of us—brides, grooms, and employees—blindsided and without answers.
The theft of our wedding deposits and failure to provide services we paid for was deemed a civil case, not a criminal case. The difference being that the police will take action in the latter, but not in the former. I never really understood why the act of Stevens stealing hundreds of thousands (maybe millions?) of dollars and robbing 150 couples of their weddings was not considered a criminal case, but the long and short of it is, the police were not doing anything to apprehend him and the state would not bring legal action against him on our behalf. We (the collective ex-reBar couples) soon realized that the only way to give our cause any kind of legs was to keep the reBar story in the media and make a lot of noise at the District Attorney’s office.
For whatever reason, Stevens turned himself in to the police three days after he fled. Perhaps the media coverage got to him or perhaps he was looking for leniency. He pled guilty to tax evasion (the hearings well attended by ex-reBar couples with choice words for Stevens in the court room) and was sentenced to three and half to ten years in prison. And though we felt vindicated that he was given jail time, the crime he admitted to committing has nothing to do with us—the couples he stole from.
Stevens (on the right) exiting with his laywers | Image via DNAinfo
The ex-reBar couples considered our legal options (individually and as a group), but in the end it boiled down to the sad truth that there is no point in suing someone who has no money. And there is definitely no point in suing someone who has no money and owes the IRS $1.4 million. We were advised by several lawyers that any legal action on our part against Stevens wouldn’t be worth the trouble or expense. In what feels like a crappy consolation prize, the ex-reBar couples were awarded a $1.1 million restitution deal, but with Uncle Sam in line before us, we know we won’t see a penny of that. In addition to jail time, Stevens has been banned from the NYC restaurant industry (making it even less likely that he will ever earn an income to pay off $2.5 million of debt).
It’s a heartbreaking lesson in being prepared for the worst because it’s not just the financial loss (for some people we are talking tens of thousands of dollars, entire life savings, etc.), it’s also the loss of trust and the feeling of being violated. If it’s ever happened to you, you know how the sense of being unsettled lingers long after the fact. My perception of vendors after losing reBar was completely changed—everyone was a potential scam artist. Instead of being appreciative of goodwill gestures, I’d pessimistically think, “What’s in it for them…this is too good to be true…something’s gotta give…I better not get my hopes up…” It’s a horrible way to view people who are trying to help you plan the happiest day of your life (especially when they are just being nice) and it took me a long time to be able to trust vendors again.
Mr. S and I had wedding insurance so we got our full $22K deposit back, and therefore the reBar blow was somewhat softened for us. I believe one or two other couples also had wedding insurance and they were able to recoup their deposits, but for the vast majority of couples affected by reBar’s closing, there is very, very little hope in ever seeing that money again. I don’t think I’m smarter than the average bear for having the wedding insurance. I think I’m extremely lucky that someone thought to educate me on it because almost everyone I tell this story to responds with, “I didn’t even know wedding insurance existed!”
Image via The Knot
With the average wedding in the US costing almost $30,000, it boggles my mind that insurance isn’t a more featured expense in the long list of “must haves” the WIC promotes. If all I’m remembered for on Weddingbee is “the girl who wouldn’t shut up about wedding insurance” and that sparks a conversation for newly engaged couples, then I’ll consider my time here well spent. I know it’s much more fun to fill the Pinterest board with dresses, floral arrangements, and place settings rather than consider potential hurricanes, fires, or criminal activity. But it’s a fact of life that shit happens. And shit doesn’t care if it’s your wedding day or not.
Image via Travelers
I don’t want this post to be all doom and gloom because that’s only half of this saga. Back at the ex-reBar couples Facebook group, there were photos of gorgeous weddings and stories that restored my faith in humanity shared every week. I almost felt guilty for receiving sympathy when at least we got our money back and had seven months left to plan Wedding 2.0. Summer couples (of which there were many) had no money and no time to re-plan their weddings. It’s hard enough to plan a wedding without one or the other, so I can’t fathom how these couples pulled it off without either. I’m chalking it up to the resilience of human beings and how the forces of good always overcome the forces of evil.
I thought it would be nice to put faces to a story like this one, so I asked the Facebook group if anyone would be willing to share photos from their weddings on this blog. I wasn’t sure how people would respond, so was surprised and excited to receive an overwhelming response. Along with their photos, brides and grooms echoed the same sentiment that their wedding was more amazing than any reBar wedding could have been. And at the backbone of each story were glowing reviews of vendors who helped quickly piece back together broken weddings. Photographers who took on jobs just weeks before the wedding date. Officiants called upon at the last minute who delivered perfect and personalized ceremonies. Restaurants not typically in the business of hosting large parties figured out a way to transform into wedding venues to accommodate these couples.
You’re probably like, “OK, shut up already Squid and show us the happy brides and grooms.”
Dawn and Joseph were married on July 25th at The Stanton Social, a pretty swanky restaurant in Manhattan’s Lower East Side and who were invaluable in helping the couple rebuild their wedding. Indeed, The Stanton Social was one of the venues that raised their hand right away to help out ex-reBar couples. Mr. S and I had them on our short list when looking for a replacement venue, but the restaurant’s private upstairs lounge was too small to accommodate our guest list. I’m so happy to see that Dawn and Joseph were able to have their wedding here because the space is gorgeous (and I can attest firsthand to the deliciousness of their tapas and cocktails).
Photo credit (L-R): iNsYnc Photography, Guest photo
Image via Timeout
Sarah and Jason were married at the India House in Manhattan’s Financial District. The venue put together a special package for ex-reBar couples and it seems like fate brought this couple here—their bridal party coordinates so perfectly with those striking blue walls! Their fete was truly a family affair with family and friends providing the photography, performing the ceremony, and leading the string quartet and band.
Photo credit: Dev Khalsa Photography
Tawny and Pete were lucky to keep their original wedding date of July 12th and had a daytime event as always planned. They held their ceremony at Carl Schurz Park on the Upper East Side (the same park where we had our engagement photos taken), followed by a reception at Providence, a multi-level event space with a siiiiick chandelier in Midtown West. The bride’s DIY collection of bottles and printed quotes decorated the tables and the cupcake tower was courtesy of a friend’s sister, Trish Delish.
Photo credit: Fernando Colon of Dreamlife Photography
Jennifer and Kitoh got married A WEEK AND A HALF after reBar’s closing. That’s like zero days in wedding speak. From the beginning, Jennifer and Kitoh weren’t keen on a large wedding. When reBar closed, the couple took it as a sign to scrap their plans for a large shindig in May 2015 and decided to host a small, intimate wedding in May 2014. Yes, they moved up their wedding by an entire year! After speaking to their friends and family, the couple decided to marry on May 25th in Central Park’s Ladies Pavillion. They lucked out in hiring Pennance Photography (their first choice!) and Cindy Blakis of Happily Ever Blissful to do their bilingual ceremony. Even on such short notice, Jennifer told me her vendors had a huge hand in making their day the perfect event that it was.
I love all the huddling and cuddling! | Photo credit: Pennance Photography
I didn’t even know trees like this existed in NYC | Photo credit: Pennance Photography
Katie and Ranjan were married on July 26th with Hindu and civil ceremonies at the Dumbo Spot and reception at Atelier Roquette in Red Hook. Ranjan credited their wedding planner, Victoria Nee-Lartey and DJ Michael “MikeMusic” Williams for helping them plan every detail and keeping the dance floor packed all night. Both vendors gave the couple their services for free after hearing about the reBar debacle.
Such a classic Brooklyn shot.
Image via Dumbo Spot
Last but not least, Heather and Brian wed on their original date, June 6th at Superfine (directly across the street from reBar). They hit a lot of dead ends in finding a new venue, but with guests traveling from out of state, the date was pretty much set in stone. Tyler, reBar’s ex-event coordinator, worked with the couple during the three weeks leading up to their nuptials and acted as day of coordinator at their wedding. Similarly, the in-house florist at reBar, Kerry Quade, honored her contract and provided florals for the day. I’ve never met Heather or Brian in person, but from this photo alone I know they are classy people because if that was me standing in front of reBar on our wedding day, I would have been holding up a different finger.
Photo credit: Alex Smirnov of George Street Photography
These photos and stories are a testament to how Brooklyn and the entire NYC community rallied around us. Their generosity and kindness are probably the only reasons why we were able to still have the weddings of our dreams in what was a desperate situation with limited to no options. And this is just a sampling of the stunning events had in the aftermath of reBar’s closing. Every time another one is shared at the Facebook group, I do a little celebratory fist pump because Jason Stevens might have taken away our money and our wedding venue, but he can’t take away our weddings.
To the couples who participated in this post—thank you for sharing your story. To the broader ex-reBar Facebook group, your support and encouragement have been my safe haven throughout our wedding planning process. Thank you for looking out for all of us.
If you’d like to see earlier “Best of the ‘Bee” posts, check them out here.