Cecilia Misa liked going to the Dressing Room restaurant for dinner. So did her daughter. So each was pleased to have recently been given a $100 gift certificate to dine at the restaurant, co-founded by actor/philanthropist Paul Newman and noted chef Michel Nischan in 2006.
The restaurant, tucked away in Playhouse Square next to the Westport Country Playhouse, was the first farm-to-table restaurant in Fairfield County and a popular dining destination for locals, like Misa and her daughter.
But the evening of fine food was not to be when, after weeks of rumors, the restaurant closed last month.
"I consider it total deception," said Misa. "You have to know you are closing, don't you think?" she asked, referring to the recent sale of gift cards. "This isn't right."
She says she now feels their gift certificates are useless.
"I sent the owner an email and didn't get any response," she said. "I just want him to honor the gift certificates and refund the money."
Nischan said the restaurant closed after he decided not to renew the lease on the building. He said his new venture, a non-profit group called Wholesome Wave, is taking up a lot of his time and he didn't have the time to devote to the restaurant.
Nischan is CEO, president and founder of the organization whose mission, according to its website, is: "To empower people in underserved urban and rural communities to make healthier food choices by increasing affordability and access to fresh, locally grown food in ways that generate significant impact on local economies."
As for the unused gift certificates, Nischan said he's made good on some of them. "I got a couple of calls and we reimbursed them," he said. "Some were two years old."
He said he offered the certificate-holders 50 percent of the value of the cards. He said that Misa probably sent her message to the wrong email. "They should send requests to my personal email, firstname.lastname@example.org," he said.
According to Claudette Carveth, spokeswoman for the state Department of Consumer Protection, "there is no policy regarding gift certificates" other than they don't expire and there is no service fee attached to them.
"A business can go out of business for any reason it chooses," she said, adding there is no state law that requires an owner of a closed buisness to reimburse the cost of the gift cards.
That applies even, like in Nischan's case, when an owner decides to close the business to pursue other ventures.
However, Carveth added, "it's just good business to fulfill your debts."
She said that those with gift certificates to the Dressing Room restaurant should contact Nischan first, and if they aren't satisfied, they can file a complaint with her office.