MAPLE SHADE, New Jersey (WPVI) -- The pandemic has hit the wedding industry, as well as brides and grooms-to-be and their families, especially hard. Some say they were left without thousands of dollars in refunds.
The Action News Troubleshooters heard from several families who want their money back from Sensational Host. The wedding caterer was a mainstay in South Jersey for over four decades and received hundreds of thousands of dollars in pandemic-related help from the federal government.
"It's obviously hard enough to plan one wedding and now we're on our third attempt," said Leanne Dombrowski.
Dombrowski's first wedding date was August 2020 and her first caterer was supposed to be Sensational Host.
"We always pass it when we're coming home. It's on Route 73 and we see it out there so we figure we give it a try," said Leanne's father, Vince Dombrowski, who paid a $2,500 deposit plus $10,000. Then months later in November, he got a call.
"My daughter called me and she's crying and upset," Vince said.
Sensational Host had closed its doors.
"The night before Thanksgiving, my daughter got an email that just said we're going out of business, you know, after 42 years deep regret, 'sorry, we're going out of business,'" Vince said.
The Dombroskis contacted the Troubleshooters wanting a refund from Sensational Host, as did six other families.
Sensational Host owner Henry Gosik told Action News, "I am devastated that COVID-19 has forced us to cease our operations. I have been working to find other catering companies willing to take on client contracts and honor the prices and deposits. I have had some success, and I am working to try to do more."
Gosik also said he's trying to sell what he can to make up for the losses, but "the market is flooded with used equipment and it does not get much return."
But Sensational Host did receive money through the federal Paycheck Protection Program: $311,785.
"How could this guy get a grant that he doesn't have to pay back? $311,000, and not have money to pay people back," Vince said.
And Action News has learned Gosik registered a new business called Peacock Home Care before shutting down Sensational Host.
"The grant was approved in April, so I'm saying, how much money did he use there? Where did he get money to start a new business but he can't pay all the brides back," Vince said.
Gosik told the Troubleshooters he used the PPP money to pay his employees and not a dime went to himself or his family.
"I did not take a single dollar from Sensational Host to register Peacock Home Care or open up any new business," Gosik said.
He also said Peacock has no bank account or assets.
Meantime, Leanne Dombrowski is looking toward the future.
"We were like, well, we're not gonna let this whole wedding thing stop us from starting our lives. So a few days after we canceled it the second time, we found that we are expecting," Leanne said.
Vince Dombrowski said Sensational Host has now offered him a refund of $6,000.
Action News also inquired about all the consumers who reached out to us. Gosik released the following statement below.
Statement on behalf of Henry Gosik, president of Sensational Host, Inc.:
"As you may know, Sensational Host Caterers was a family business that was started by my father 42 years ago. I had hoped and planned to pass it on to future generations of my family. It is the only business I have ever known and I am devastated that COVID-19 has forced us to cease our operations after more than four decades.
I appreciate the opportunity to address the questions you have posed. As you can imagine, whenever a business is forced to close, especially one that is engaged in weddings, a lot of false information gets spread around, and a lot of it is defamatory.
I can confirm that the business has been forced to cease operations. I have been working to find other catering companies that are willing to take on client contracts and honor the prices and deposits. I have had some success, and I am working to try to do more of that where I can make it happen. I have also been trying to sell what the business has to sell so that it can return some money to clients where we can. Because so many businesses like ours have ceased operations, the market is flooded with used equipment and it does not get much return.
The rumors that have gotten back to me about the PPP have been particularly defamatory and hurtful. Personally, I did not receive a PPP grant. The business, Sensational Host, received a grant. It used that money specifically as it was intended and as outlined by the SBA, which included paying the company's employees. Sensational Host did not use any PPP grant money to pay me or any of my family members, even though the law would have allowed that. Four members of my family worked for Sensational Host and none of us have received a single paycheck from the company since March 2020.
Like many people who lost their jobs due to the pandemic, we are currently looking for new jobs. I am trying to figure out what I am going to do with the rest of my working life now that the pandemic has forced me into a position I never thought I would be in.
Sensational Host had been my job for my entire adult life, and I now have to learn to do something else. As I try to think about what I can and should do, I registered a business name called Peacock Home Care. It is not an operating business. It has no bank accounts, it has no clients, and it has no employees. Contrary to rumors, I did not take a single dollar from Sensational Host to register Peacock Home Care or open up any new business.
I am not asking anyone to feel sorry for the business or me. People have a right to be disappointed, just like I am, but no one has the right to defame me or members of my family by spreading false rumors."
Further Sensational Host Statement:
"We are continuing to handle this horrible situation caused by the pandemic, and we hope you and your family are healthy and safe.
As I am sure you can appreciate, we cannot get into details, but we can tell you that we have entered into settlement agreements with the Dombrowski, Mallett, Zavislak, and Snively families. We do not have a contract with anyone named Julie Wright."