Dozens left without Thanksgiving dinner after Petaluma restaurant foul-up

“I was under a delusional state that we could do this,” said April Pantry owner Amiee Demaris.|

Amy Malaise was so excited to order her Thanksgiving dinner from Petaluma’s April Pantry that she signed up in September for a gourmet meal of turkey, gravy, stuffing and a pie.

Like many others, she’d heard great things about the caterer and wanted to support local businesses and make the holiday a little easier for her family. For $140, it seemed like a deal.

She arrived Thursday afternoon at April Pantry to a winding line of grumbling customers and rumors that the dinners were hours behind. As an administrator of a local Facebook group, Petaluma Foodies, she posted that other foodies should manage expectations if they’d ordered from April Pantry.

“I posted that there was a backup and to have some patience and maybe show up later because they were backed up,” Malaise said.

But things deteriorated from there, with at least 70 of the 180 orders going unfulfilled at the end of the day, according to April Pantry owner Amiee Demaris.

Without a Thanksgiving dinner — or just a partial meal — customers were irate, Facebook foodies fuming and Demaris humbled by the holiday mess.

Demaris said a lack of staffing created huge setbacks in the kitchen early on, ultimately leading to the Thanksgiving disaster. Like many restaurateurs, she’s struggled to find and keep staff at a time when hospitality workers are few and far between.

She said she requested 10 temporary workers from a hiring agency, but her request went unfulfilled at the last moment. Several additional cooks she’d hoped would help her fulfill the orders backed out at the last minute. With two of her regular employees already out for the day, she quickly ended up trying to cobble together meals with her husband, sister and several delivery drivers who dove in to help.

Ultimately, it wasn’t enough to get the orders filled, even when a member of the Petaluma Foodies group, Shinaide Villa, showed up to help in the kitchen.

Villa, the owner of Spoonful of Sugar, a home bakery, said she saw a Facebook post asking for kitchen help and decided to jump in.

“They were definitely in the weeds. I helped in the kitchen with prep and boxing up and getting orders out,” she said.

“I felt so bad for (Demaris). I saw all these families saying they were waiting for hours,” she said, having worked from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. as a volunteer.

After the hubbub of the day, Demaris is grateful for the help and contrite about letting her customers down.

“We probably sold too many meals knowing that there were staffing issues. I was under a delusional state that we could do this with the staffing we had,” she said. “I thought we were going to be fine, but even two weeks before, I was struggling to find staff help,” she added.

Working for several days nonstop with her husband, she tried to get the meals prepared and pies baked. But on Thursday, as the line outside grew and customers became increasingly agitated, she knew they’d run out of time.

“It was awful. I honestly thought the whole time we were gonna make it. But at one point, we had racks of turkeys that hadn’t even cooked yet,” she said.

“I’m just really sorry, and I dealt with things the best way I could. I made a bad decision and I should have just canceled. That would have been the prudent thing to do. I’m just going to have to take a look at myself,” she said, tearing up.

The incident played out in real time on social media, with some members of Petaluma Foodies group posting furious missives that Malaise tried to manage while also waiting for her meal.

“I just wanted to be supportive and kind (to the business). It’s been a hard year and I wanted to extend all the grace I could,” she said.

Alex Horvath, who waited for hours for his meal, said at one point more than 100 people were in the line and it wasn’t moving at all. He also posted to the Petaluma Foodies group about his experience.

After two hours of waiting he gave up, figuring that if he did get a meal it probably wouldn’t be very good. His fears were confirmed by others on the Petaluma Foodies page who said that if they did get food, they only received partial orders.

Instead of a big Thanksgiving meal, Horvath and his wife ate the appetizers they’d prepared and a pecan pie.

“Look, if you’re going to do a big catering job like this, you need to have it done the night before. There were a hundred people in line, and someone could have come out to tell us so we could make other arrangements. Instead, they were posting on social media,” Horvath said.

April Pantry owner Demaris said she tried several ways to get her message out to people waiting, including social media, and had asked her sister to go out to the line and get phone numbers of people who were waiting. Demaris plans to offer refunds or special Christmas dinners to those who didn’t get their meals.

Horvath and Malaise said they’re going to pass on the Christmas meals, not wanting another holiday snafu.

“I’m of the mind, fool me once …” Horvath said of the idiom, fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. He’s not giving up on April Pantry entirely, though.

“The people of Petaluma and Sonoma County are very forgiving. They don’t want her business to close because of this, and they’re willing to look at the (Christmas dinner offerings) as a reasonable accommodation. Sounds like staffing and time were problems. My hope is that sometime in the spring or summer I can have one of their killer BLTs again,” Horvath said.

Malaise, who got part of her order, is also taking it in stride.

“Thanksgiving is a big holiday, and we put a huge emphasis on food. You’re banking on this wonderful meal and you wait and get nothing? I really hope they can rally from this,” she said.

“I was upset, but this has been a rough year. For most of us waiting in line, we realized we were lucky to be able to buy something like this in the first place. I think we’re all going to live,” she said.

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