Clear Lake venue unexpectedly shuts down, leaving marital ceremonies in limbo

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- On a sunny Friday morning, Trena Gilkes is doing something she never expected -- looking for another venue less than a month before she and her husband are scheduled to renew their vows.

"I mean, come on, don't leave me blindsided," said a clearly-frustrated Gilkes.

Gilkes and her husband, Rupert, planned to renew their vowels at Cullen's, an upscale Clear Lake area restaurant and event space. It was schedule for the first week of May. Then, just a few days ago, the restaurant shut down without warning.

Gilkes got a call from a friend who heard about the closure in the news.

"I was just like, uh, I was in tears, because I was so upset. Three weeks before our 20-year wedding vow renewal," Gilkes said.

The Gilkes were young when they got married. They never had a proper ceremony. Now established with kids and a family business, the couple thought it was finally time to celebrate their love.

"This is the 20th year and we need to do something, so we can have a picture on the wall and a wedding dress on or something like that," said Rupert Gilkes.

The couple already put down a $1,300 deposit, but now can't even get a call returned. They are also not alone.

Amy Westerhausen and her fiance David Wisby put a $1,000 deposit down two weeks ago. They're also out of luck.

"I've been calling emailing, trying to find some way to get my money back, and nobody would answer the phone; nobody would email back," said Westerhausen, who is working and going to school full time.

With doors locked and phones unanswered, neither couple can find the owners.

Eyewitness News reached out to the restaurant's publicist, who said the owners were not available for comment because they are busy transitioning the former restaurant to a medical facility. However, they did send us a statement, which said in part:

    To our event patrons and their families:
    We regret the inconvenience that the cessation of our restaurant and event venue's operations has caused you.
    Following our announcement on Wednesday morning, we began making personal contact or calls with the over 200 individuals and organizations that had booked future events with us. As we work through that list, we have been arranging deposit refunds and processing the necessary paperwork to ensure a fair and accurate resolution.
    In some instances, this process has been complicated by those who have cancelled payments through their credit card companies.
    Please be assured that all deposits in Cullen's possession will be refunded to the parties that placed them.
    We ask your patience as we continue our efforts to provide similar courtesies to our employees and our vendors.
    Kevin and Sandra Munz

"I hope he'll make good on it, it's the right thing to do," said David Wisby, after we told him the restaurant promised a refund. "It's a huge investment in time and money here. And to be told to take a hike, not even told to take a hike, it's frustrating."

Fortunately for the Gilkes, they just booked the Merrill House for their wedding renewal Friday morning. While they will have to notify guests, the couple is grateful that the Upper Kirby event space was available and in their price range.

"We're just trying to fix it and lucky to find this location," said Rupert Gilkes.

Meanwhile, Amy and David are about to begin their search for a new place to say "I Do." The couple already ordered save-the-date cards for next February. They are hoping to find an affordable venue that would be available on their scheduled weekend so they don't have to push back their wedding.
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