Crackpot Restaurant Closes Abruptly After Selling Thousands In Gift Cards

Neil Smith, owner of two Crackpot Restaurants in Maryland, recently shut down one of them and left employees without pay and gift card holders without compensation. Smith says his other restaurant won’t honor the cards because they’re technically owned by different corporations: “He said he’s the sole owner of the Towson location, but he and a group of people own the [now closed] Bel Air location.”

Crackpot owner Neil Smith told 11 News that his bank took over the place, locking all of his assets.

Smith said he’s looking into filing for personal bankruptcy because the Bel Air restaurant has all but sent him into financial ruin. He insisted that he and his shareholders did all they could to keep the location open.

Smith also said he’s in the process of sending paperwork to the bank to try to help his employees, but didn’t give 11 News an answer about the gift cards.

If you live in the area, you might want to reconsider giving Smith any of your business so that he has time to come up with an answer.

(Thanks to S.F.!)

“Closed Restaurant Leaves Customers Without Refunds” [MSNBC]

Comments

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  1. JPropaganda says:

    Ugh, that’s why you don’t buy gift certificates from local places that could close at a moment’s notice.

  2. B says:

    Who knew you couldn’t trust a place called Crackpot restaurant?

  3. HOP says:

    i hope they sue this clown folr all he’s worth….

  4. Towson, LOLZ.

  5. Broncoskip says:

    I live near there! That Bel Air location is less then a year old, and seemed to be doing well. (They had been running alot of commercials on local cable channels). It was a seafood place, known for Maryland Crabs, crab cakes and the such. I didn’t know it was closed!
    Ha!

  6. Sasquatch says:

    @HOP: I have a feeling that won’t be very much money.

  7. BlondeGrlz says:

    Boy, that Crackpot Restaurant turned to be appropriately named.

  8. hellinmyeyes says:

    OK, for the record, who names a restaurant “Crackpot”?? Also, who eats from a place called “Crackpot”?? Thank gods I have never stumbled upon one of these. Maybe the name says it all.

  9. B says:

    @Eli Reusch: He does own the apparently successful Towson location.
    @Broncoskip: How was the food?

  10. arch05 says:

    Crackpot? The jokes write themselves, don’t they…

    Oh, btw: “recently shut down one them and left”

  11. covaro says:

    Compared to the number of other restaurants in the area I’m really not surprised by this fact. The Bel Air area simply has too many restaurants, and with some of the stories I’ve heard about the service at that place, you are going to go down in flames quickly. There are numerous better places to get Seafood than Crackpot in Harford County, MD… that’s for sure.

  12. deadlizard says:

    Someone please declare gift cards a bad, bad idea.

  13. Posthaus says:

    There are atleast a dozen places I can think of that you can get better seafood than the Crackpot. I think they day the sign went up I immediately scoffed [cynically] that it probably wouldn’t survive.

    It wasn’t honestly anything special..just some stylized building that looked like it was plucked off Cannery Row, set down in the sea of asphalt and strip malls that they call Bel Air. There wasn’t a nice enough atmosphere (wood everywhere in large dining rooms made it an awfully loud place inside, and the help nor the food was anything special) or unique enough dining experience (not compared to more local chains and independants-god forbid I mention there is a freaking Red Lobster a stone’s throw away) to really set itself from the casual dining establishments surrounding it.

  14. anonymouscoworker says:

    The Crackpot is best know for the “Pounder Plus” crab cake, weighing in at, well, over a pound.

    It’s less well known by those over 21 as a place where those under 21 can sometimes purchase booze at the attached beer/liquor store.

  15. homerjay says:

    In other news- Owner Noel Smyth would like to announce the grand opening of Crackpipe Restaurant!

    *Not affiliated with Crackpot restaurant

  16. NefariousNewt says:

    @blondegrlz: It might have been more popular if it had been renamed the “Crackpipe Restaurant”.

  17. anonymouscoworker says:

    The Crackpot is best known for the “Pounder Plus” crab cake, which weighs about 20 oz.

    It’s less well known to people over 21 as a place where people under 21 can sometimes procure booze from the attached beer/liquor store.

  18. The Porkchop Express says:

    @anonymouscoworker: How sick might one get from eating a pound (or more) of crab cake?

    I mean, I would do it….I just want to know how sick one would get.

  19. Slothrob says:

    I’m confused, the picture looks nothing like the Crackpot that’s out on Loch Raven Blvd. (which has been opened since 1971, and is a great place to pick crabs)… so is this a different Crackpot, or have they changed/expanded?

  20. ARPRINCE says:

    Crack is whack!

  21. DrGirlfriend says:

    @Lo-Pan: My friends had several pounds each of crab legs at Red Lobster, and afterwards they were acting really weird. Like giggly schoolgirls, except that they were guys in their late twenties.

    That’s where I formed my theory that lots of crab can get you high.

  22. Posthaus says:

    @anonymouscoworker:

    “It’s less well known to people over 21 as a place where people under 21 can sometimes procure booze from the attached beer/liquor store.”

    What, Decker’s had competition?

    I smell a good conspiracy. :P

  23. renegadebarista says:

    This seems to be kind of common when a restaurant starts to struggle. I own a coffeehouse and one of our competitors started pushing prepayed cards extremely heavily and then closed without notice one month later. Whats sad is that we live in a blue colloar community so $10 – $20 bucks is a good amount of cash for some people to lose. We ended up honoring their giftcards/prepaid cards at 75 cents on the dollar just to be good members of the community. I don’t think that JPROPAGANDA’s comment is fair because their are a lot of local restaurants that would not do this and their are others, like mine, that not only wouldn’t do it but tried to make it right in the community when someone does.

  24. @B: I’m too slow. Damn. +1

  25. @Broncoskip: That Bel Air location is less then a year old, and seemed to be doing well. (They had been running alot of commercials on local cable channels).

    Uhm, usually running a lot of ads for a restaurant means it’s not doing so well and they felt they needed to drum up business. Not McChains, but local restaurants, generally.

  26. yesteryear says:

    @JPropaganda: yeah, good point. why on earth would you want to support a local company that actually contributes to your neighborhood economy through job creation, reinvestment in other local businesses, and sales tax dollars? that makes NO SENSE! we should only support fantastic chain restaurants like chili’s, applebee’s, outback steakhouse and the like — if we work hard enough maybe all restaurants will be chains someday!

    local businesses are the key to local economic development — and typically they do good things for the community (like what RENEGADEBARISTA’s business did)… the only reason this is even newsworthy is that it’s a small company – this entire blog is about big companies pulling this shit on a daily basis. sorry to ramble, but its depressing that people actually are beginning to trust corporations over their own neighbors.

  27. Kaiser-Machead says:

    @deadlizard: Depends. I’m certain a gift card from Red Lobster wouldn’t suddenly become useless, cuz it’s not like they’re going anywhere anytime soon.

  28. ClayS says:

    @Kaiser-Machead:
    No, it won’t suddenly become useless….

  29. howie_in_az says:

    @DrGirlfriend: I’m trekking back to Maryland for my sister’s graduation in May, I’ll test your theory.

    Shame that my once-favorite restaurant The Backfin is now closed :(

  30. Posthaus says:

    @yesteryear:

    But only perhaps if the place was worth supporting. It didn’t do much if anything to stand out from the Red Lobster/ Outback/T.G.I Friday’s/Uno’s/Chili’s/ Ruby Tuesday’s/Bonefish Grill/etc all surrounding it.

    It really didn’t even make a real dent in local restarants either. Ask who makes the best crab cake in Harford County and you’ll probably get 6 different answers..atleast. But none will probably be the Crackpot.

  31. FightOnTrojans says:

    @renegadebarista: I bet your establishment gained a lot of loyal customers with that move. Good to see some places making the best of a bad situation.

  32. UpsetPanda says:

    First there was the requisite “Gift cards are bad, give cash!” I will one up this and now say, “Gift cards are bad, give crack.”

    You think people drive by, see “Crackpot” and think “Oh this sounds like a nice establishment…”

  33. lostalaska says:

    With a name like Crackpot Restaurant I can only think the owner wanted the best possible name and had an assistant go out and hire a crack team of scientists to figure out the best name possible. It’s a shame that instead they wound up with a team of crackhead scientists to come up with the name.

  34. kittenfoo says:

    what exactly is so wrong with giving people cash? i mean, you probably wouldn’t give your spouse cash, but nieces, nephews, etc.? i don’t know of anyone who doesn’t like getting cash.

  35. RandomHookup says:

    If the gift cards are valid at any Crackpot, I’d have a hard time supporting the “it’s a different corporation” argument, but protection for GCs during bankruptcy can vary a lot. Most states say employees have to be paid first.

    McD’s could pull this, because a number of their restaurants are franchises. The best PR move would be to make arrangements to take care of these folks or expect a class action.

  36. ClayS says:

    @kittenfoo:
    I think the theory is that giving cash as a gift doesn’t take a lot of thought, and many appreciate you making the extra effort in selecting a gift especially for them. That indicates you have an understanding of their tastes, etc. It seems to me that a gift card is only a little better than cash in that regard. My mother-in-law gives me cash for my birthday, so that should be an indication.

  37. Trai_Dep says:

    It doesn’t seem that the best way to launch one of the riskiest businesses to enter is to open up two of them. I’m just saying…

  38. forgottenpassword says:

    Gift cards are just a bad idea in general for consumers. I would never buy a gift card unless my state has laws protecting the consumer from gift cards that expire, become less valuable with time etc. etc..

    I HATE recieving a gift card. Last time I got one… it was to a a mall I rarely EVER go to because its so far away. I much prefer cash.

  39. ClayS says:

    @forgottenpassword:
    About a year ago, I had a Discover card rebate for $40 in my account. Discover lets you double that rebate with certain merchants, so I thought it would be a good idea to use it to get an $80 Sharper Image gift card. Bad move. I had to spend about an hour in one of their stores with my wife as we tried to find $80 worth of junk to buy with that gift card. I probably should have sold it to some other unfortunate shopper for $20 and ran. I know we used up the card, but I couldn’t name a single thing we bought with it. I hate that store.

  40. yesteryear says:

    @Posthaus: sorry if i wasn’t being clear. i have no idea about this restaurant as i live on the west coast where crab cioppino is more common than crab cakes. my comment was in response to the gross generalization made by “JPROPAGANDA” in regards to trusting small businesses vs. big businesses.

    but you’re right to point out that if you’re going to open a shop you have to be ready to offer something above and beyond what the crap slinging chain restaurants have.

  41. Chris Walters says:

    @renegadebarista: That was cool of your business to offer that deal. Looks like a neighboring restaurant in Bel Air MD is doing the same as of today. (Seems like it would ultimately be good for business, too.)

  42. RobinB says:

    Having tried both locations, I understand why the Bel Air Crackpot
    would be in trouble. The service and food was nodescript, but the
    Towson location served up good food with a smile every time.

  43. Posthaus says:

    @yesteryear:

    Quite alright, if you had never been inside you’d probably never guess it was the “been there, done that” sort of place- only with it’s menu skewed crab cake. Honestly, there isn;t really anywhere around here you can’ throw a stone and not hit a place selling crabcakes on the menu- although how good they are will very. And the Crackpot really wasn’t the worst..they just weren’t anything to crow about.

    @Chris Walters:

    Ironically that place used to be called “Dead Freddie’s.” (-Hence the chalk outlined sort of dude holding the beer on the sign.) Now that altruism is a better example of what the local restaurant scene is really like.

  44. BBF_BBF says:

    Yep, pretty much if the gift cards/certificates said “Valid only at Bel Air Location”, then the holders will have to live with the fact that they cannot redeem at the other location. However, they can probably get a few cents on the dollar back when the bankruptcy guys figure out how much money they can recover by liquidating the assets.

    If there was no “location” restriction on the certificates, then the other location should redeem them.

  45. goodkitty says:

    @UpsetPanda: That’s funny but true. Consider the use of crack as a doomsday hedge fund. Starving people won’t trade you food for gold bars, but I bet they’d trade anything for crack.

  46. renegadebarista says:

    @Chris Walters:

    For us it was good for business in the long run, and we have had several people point out that it was a good p.r. move on our part, but to be completely honest I never thought of the p.r. implications when we did it. I had grown up in the town where we are located and was raised in a working class family and it just kind of pissed me off that someone would take peoples money without giving them what they paid for. I know that there are people reading this going, ya but its only ten bucks, but when you work at a timber mill or such ten bucks is a good piece of change, and with that in mind I figured out how much I could afford to comp and came up with how much we could give to people who got screwed by this one competitior, just kind of seemed like the right thing to do at the time. Still glad I did, ya we got customers from it that still spend money, but we got a good number of people who I now consider friends from it that my day would seem strange without talking to, and I actually find that more important then the bottom line.

  47. mstump says:

    I live near this place, too, and can tell you that the food was terrible and way too expensive for both the quality and the location. This is Bel Air, not Bethesda. You can’t charge $30 for two tiny crabcakes and expect to stay in business. I’m curious to know what business will take the building. It’s a ridiculous size for a restaurant, but isn’t near a major road where retail would do well. Anybody heard what’s coming?

  48. mstump says:

    @renegadebarista: coffee coffee?

  49. PhilR8 says:

    As a Marylander, the use of “Crackpot” never seemed strange to me. We’re proud of anything that relates to crabs even if only slightly.

  50. GizmoBub says:

    Why not get some locals together in front of the other location he owns to protest or at least mess with his business? Heck, maybe even make some filings with the better business bureau or the consumer fraud division of the state attorney genera’s office? Sure, the filings might not be effective in the longrun but it would raise some eyebrows and might be trouble for him in the long run if there are enough complaints.

  51. KJones says:

    I’m surprised that only GIZMOBUB beat me to using the word fraud. There could be no other definition for this.

    And I’m not talking about the customers, I’m talking about the bank. The revenues from the “gift cards” would be considered an asset. If it wasn’t declared as part of the sale, the new owners would have a could case for filing suit.

  52. It seems that maybe 1 or 2 of the commenters here have ever been to this crackpot, let alone the other one on Loch Raven.

    I will go ahead and list the reasons that this place shut down.

    1- It was a block away from the main road that every other restaurant in the area was on.
    2- It was behind a Target, and unless you knew where it was, you’d never find it by accident
    3- It was its own building. Not next to a mall that would draw traffic like most of the other restaurants.
    4- The one on loch raven is what some would call a hole in the wall. Packed every night by the same 100 people, the only bar that I regularly got served when I was underaged, and by far the best burgers in the world.

    The Bel Air crackpot was a great restaurant (though I only went 3 times, the food was good each time). They had a really nice bar setup, one of the best in the area, and the servers were nice. This doesnt make up for the fact that it was just in a crappy location. It also tried to cater to a different set of people than you’d normally see in the ‘other’ crackpot, so the amount of people who’d go to the other one who would 1) be close enough to go to the Bel Air location and 2)be the type of people you’d see in the Bel Air location was surprisingly small. Bel Air is an interesting area in that it’s full of trophy wives and upper middle class people living well beyond their means. Had this restaurant been in a better location (In front of the target that it was behind comes to mind), or had it had they maybe tried to name it something else, it certainly would have prospered.

    That being said, I’m not thrilled about the fact that the employees didn’t get paid, but if best buy went out of business, I wouldn’t raise hell that my gift cards weren’t worth anything.

    I was sad to hear that this closed down last week, I always enjoyed myself there. Good food, good bar, and where else can you get a 20 oz crab cake for only 30 bucks?