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Police reports filed against no-show Gatlinburg wedding caterer

Knoxville WVLT-TV logo Knoxville WVLT-TV 11/2/2021 Ashley Bohle
Nicole Hankinson on her wedding day © Provided by Knoxville WVLT-TV Nicole Hankinson on her wedding day

Gatlinburg, Tenn. (WVLT) - An East Tennessee woman said a Gatlinburg caterer who owns the catering company called Happy PineCone canceled the day of her wedding.

What should have been Nicole Hankinson’s dream wedding was far from it.

“We were excited to help a small business get off the ground,” Hankinson told WVLT News over Zoom.

She found the Happy Pinecone, owned by Sarrah Willhite, in December 2020 and went to the restaurant to find the food.

“She gave us samples of probably 10 different entrees and foods and we really, really enjoyed it.”

Her wedding for 40 people rolled around in October and they made the final payment a week before.

“I verified with her two days before the wedding that she was still coming and what time she was coming and then at 8:30 the morning of she emailed me and said she wasn’t coming,” said Hankinson.

Hankinson said Willhite had told her the money she had given her via Paypal was there on Saturday, but it wasn’t there anymore for their Sunday wedding.

Willhite also said she didn’t have the, “emotional strength it takes to do anything else.”

Nicole and Tom,

I can't make it there and I am truly sorry to do this to you on your special day. You've been amazing support and I feel like shot about it.

When I had the bad reviews start happening two months ago, it started this domino effect with my business. .

I've tried to atleast show up to the events but it's not been my best and it's due to finances.

With people demanding refunds and placing disputes on their invoices,

All of my accounts have been wiped out.

I had another one happen yesterday and I literally have two dollars to my name. I've gone to banks, private investors and made phone calls, borrowed from friends to try and save this thing. Right now though, I don't have the mental or emotional strength it takes to do anything else.

I am really sorry. I hope your day is beautiful and I am sorry for the extra stress.

Sarrah

Sarrah Willhite email sent to Nicole Hankinson at 8:10 AM on Sunday, October 17, 2021

“I just about lost it,” Hankinson said. “Thank God my mother-in-law took the reins and she’s like we’re going to call places around here and we’re going to find you food.”

The Hankinsons had a couple of their guests go between the wedding and the reception to get food from a deli.

“She had no intention of giving me any kind of refund or any kind of resources to take care of my catering that day,” said Hankinson.

Danielle Ignoffo from Phoenix, Arizona got married in September in East Tennessee. Her wedding was also catered by the Happy PineCone but said much of the food was burnt or dried out.

“Extremely embarrassed and really disappointed and you kind of want to give the best experience to yourself and everybody and I mean that wasn’t even part of it at all,” said Ignoffo.

Hankinson had a message for brides out there: “If my tears on my wedding night were for anything it’s to stop one other woman from going through it.”

Hankinson also shared they had to spend more money.

When I called Willhite, she said she had nothing to say about what happened and hung up. She later responded to my Facebook message which read in part, “I sent a mass email to my clients explaining how incredibly sorry I was and that it was not intended and even promised that I would pay them back but that it would take time.”

From the screenshot of the mass email she sent me, it was dated October 11th, six days before Hankinson even had her wedding.

Willhite has since messaged me more with a screenshot where she wrote she canceled on seven brides’ weddings this year.

“I’d like to continue weddings when all of this settles down, one at a time of course, and I believe I have solved my problems of employee shortage as well. Two months and over 20k in disputes. I guess people think that I’m just living it up or something. Nope. I’ve worked 125 to 130 hours a week trying to make up for what my husband and I were doing together,” said Willhite over Facebook messenger.

Hankinson and her husband plan to take what happened to small claims court if the money they lost isn’t repaid.

A representative with the Smoky Mountain Wedding Association contacted WVLT News with a statement on the situation.

The Smoky Mountain Wedding Association President, Ron Crivellone and the board would like to make the statement that this in not normal for our area for both members of the Smoky Mountain Wedding Association and the community as a whole. We have a lot of hard-working passionate professionals in the Smokies including Gatlinburg, Sevierville and Pigeon Forge; that care to give that extra effort to the people that hire them. Basically, this individual is not a “normal” representation of our area.

The Smoky Mountain Wedding Association

Cinnaholic, a local cinnamon roll company also offered a 20 percent discount for those affected by Happy Pinecone Catering’s issues. The discount applied to anyone within a certain radius in Pigeon Forge and Knoxville who had previous bookings with the company.

WVLT checked with the Sevier County Sheriff’s Office and Gatlinburg Police Department. The SCSO confirmed that nothing had been filed, but an official with the GPD said that two reports were filed regarding Happy Pinecone on Nov. 1.

A spokesperson for the Gatlinburg Chamber of Commerce shared that the restaurant was not a member of the chamber but was aware of the situation.

“We regret that this has occurred. The Happy Pinecone was never a member of the Chamber of Commerce. We are sorry for the wedding party that was affected. There are many reputable caterers in Gatlinburg. No matter what the destination it is always a good idea to hire a member of the Chamber of Commerce.”

The Better Business Bureau can help people find reputable businesses here.

Copyright 2021 WVLT. All rights reserved.

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