ROSEBUD, Mo. (KMOV.com) - The sudden closure of a popular restaurant has employees demanding answers and customers asking for refunds.

Tucked away in Rosebud, MO, you'll find a small-town restaurant with a big reputation. The restaurant is in Gasconade County but diners came from all over the state.

"Everybody loved our desserts. They'd come just to look at how big they was. And the cinnamon rolls. That was the biggest," said Pat Kline.

Pat and her husband, Dave, opened Kline's Restaurant in 2004 after they both wrapped up careers at Chrysler.

"Most of the employees was with us from the very beginning. We were like a family," said Kline.

But after years of long hours and hard work, they sold the business to Peter Hall, a man from Jefferson City, in March 2018.

"When he came along to buy the restaurant we thought, 'This is who we’ve been waiting for.' He loves the restaurant business. He’s real smart with the books and the numbers," said Kline.

But less than nine months later, it all came to a startling halt.

"I got a call at 7 a.m. Monday morning and he was short and sweet and hung up on me after he told me," said Shannon Blesi of her December 10 wake-up call. The announcement came the morning after the restaurant’s Christmas party.

Blesi was a waitress at Kline's for nine years, but recently worked as the general manager.

"I loved it. We were a family. I spent more time with my work family than I did with my own family," said Blesi.

She was shocked when the new owner called it quits, leaving her and dozens of other employees without jobs right before Christmas.

Kline, the original owner who continued working at the restaurant on the weekends, was also in disbelief.

"That’s why it’s such a shock. Why? There’s no reason for this to have gotten closed. It’s the go-to place," said Kline.

But what really got the town fired up were stories of gift cards sold days before the closure.

Tracy Hubenthal said she and her elderly parents spent $500 dollars on gift cards on December 7, planning to give them as Christmas gifts. They called the bank the following Monday to cancel their check after they heard about the closing.

"The bank called my mom and dad and said they were just here trying to cash the check, after they closed and told everybody they were closed," said Hubenthal.

News 4 reached out to Hall. He immediately hung up on the reporter once she identified herself, but later called back saying he did that because he was working at his other job.

Hall declined both an on-camera interview and a phone interview. He also declined to give News 4 a statement. However, he did say he refunded $1,800 in gift certificates but was "getting to the point I can't do more than that."

He admits checks written over the weekend were taken to the bank to be cashed after he decided to close the restaurant. When pressed to explain why or who cashed the checks, his story became unclear.

When asked why he allowed gift certificates to continue to be sold in the days before the closure, he said he didn't decide to close the restaurant until December 9. He said he is declaring bankruptcy and then hung up.

In a past Facebook post and a letter to employees like Blesi, Hall blamed health issues. His post read, "Things were going great. I had met customers as well as employees who loved the restaurant and shared in the same passion I did. I had never worked so hard in my life but I still loved the place. Unfortunately, the long hours and work took a toll on me and I had to have open heart surgery in August. Since then things had not worked very well and it's not time to close the chapter on Kline's."

In a text exchange, News 4 asked Hall if his health was the reason for the closure. He responded, "I'm done. No further comments."

Blesi said Hall's story doesn't add up. She said prior to his health issues, he asked her to take over as general manager while he returned to his previous job. Blesi and Kline said business was bustling and they couldn't imagine that would be a reason to close.

As of January 10, a paper posted on the door of the closed restaurants reads "If you have a gift card or certificate, for a potential refund please submit a copy with your name and address to KLINE'S RESTAURANT PO BOX 169 ROSEBUD MO 63091."

News 4 contacted Gasconade County prosecuting attorney Mary Weston to ask whether any of Hall's actions are potentially criminal. Weston said she would not speak in hypotheticals and said she would only consider charges if a police report was sent to her with recommendations for charges.

The Gasconade County Sheriff’s Department directed News 4 to dispatchers who said the only recent report they have for Kline's was a call from Peter Hall himself, on December 10, notifying the department that he closed the business and asking for extra patrols, saying employees may be angry.

Rather than being angry, employees say they were humbled and grateful that other local businesses and loyal customers donated Christmas gifts so their families would still have a good holiday, despite being recently unemployed.

They are also hopeful a new owner will step up.

“I was hoping somebody would buy it back right away so the employees would have their jobs,” said Kline.

She said she offered the bank help getting Kline’s up and running once again.

“And the bank said ‘No, we’re not in the leasing business,’ but we could buy it back, but we don’t want to do that,” said Kline, unsure if she would even be allowed to under a 10-year non-compete agreement she signed with Hall when she sold him the business.

In the meantime, locals are left wondering how something so sweet ended so badly.

"I did not see it coming. It just really breaks my heart," said Kline.

Copyright 2019 KMOV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved

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