Is The Celiac Awareness Tour Ripping People Off?

gluten free awareness tour problems

It’s really not that hard to do the right thing. Honestly, it’s not.

All you need to do is figure out what would piss the most people off and then NOT DO THAT.

But it seems the folks at the Celiac Awareness Tour (now called the Gluten-Free Awareness Tour…because we certainly need more gluten awareness…yes that was biting sarcasm) have not learned this lesson.

There is nothing I hate more than people taking advantage of the celiac community. Nobody messes with celiacs!

(And nobody puts baby in the corner either, but that’s a blog post for another day.)

So here’s the story.

A gluten-free bakery owner reached out to me privately last week on Facebook with the following message:

Hey Gluten Dude I have a favor to ask…you reach more people than I do. The celiac awareness tour that was suppose to be last May in Philly was canceled less than 24 hours before the event and a lot of us vendors never got a refund and lost a lot of money getting ready for the event. I was told we would get a refund and a free spot at the new event November 9th in NJ. We received nothing about the event or even a refund yet. I know you have a lot of connections in the GF community if you wouldn’t mind checking into it, we would greatly appreciate it. Thank you.

During an email back and forth with her, I learned that not only did she lose $395 for the vendor spot, but also $2,500 in inventory and payroll getting ready for the event. And as any small business owner will tell you…that’s a big old chunk of change.

So I contacted the good people at the CAT, told them what I knew and asked what their response was before I blogged about it. Here is the email I received:

Hi Gluten Dude. Cancelling any stop on the tour is very disappointing internally because we are dedicated to serving the celiac and gluten-free community and we spend lots of time planning each event. But sometimes producing an event is just not viable for reasons like low advanced ticket sales for a particular stop on the tour, or recently, because we unexpectedly encountered health/food permit requirements we could not meet.

Regarding refunds. Our staff is comprised of part-time people and volunteers who are very caring but not always available so if there is a question or problem that requires immediate attention I prefer it come to me first so I can make sure the issue is addressed promptly. If a refund is due please ask the vendor to contact me with details.

But here’s the thing. The bakery owner has been trying to get in touch with them for months via phone calls, emails and on their social media pages and their response has been nada.

So I did a little digging and I unearthed some ugliness about the CAT and its owner Lou Reyes.

– The event in Philly was canceled due to permit issues. Seriously, the day before and they didn’t have the right permits?? Vendors come in from all around the country for these things and this is how careless they are?

– They canceled an October 2013 event in Cincinnati with very little notice due to what they are calling “lack of interest”. Again…late notice and minimal, if any, notifications. Just a total lack of respect for the community.

– They just canceled an event scheduled for November 9 in the great state of New Jersey. I called around and found out they canceled it a few weeks ago, but as of yesterday, it was still on their website and yes, they were still promoting it. Coincidentally, they took it down today. Perhaps they sensed a shit storm coming.

– I found the following on the web from someone who it seems got screwed over: Do Not Work For Lou Reyes/Celiac Awareness Tour. I did nearly $700 worth of graphic design work for Lou Reyes/Celiac Awareness Tour and was never paid. Beware of ads on Craigslist and/or responses to your inquiries from this person. He has a history of not paying his service providers.”

– I connected with a fellow celiac today who said that Lou owes her over $800 after she presented for them last year. They had a signed contract for her travel and speaking fees and she has not seen a penny. She has now hired a lawyer.

– Yet another person told me today that it took 3 months after a conference for her and another speaker to be paid, and that was only after multiple emails and phone calls.

– The Greenville Celiac Support group was told if they helped at an expo they would be given money towards their support group. This was in fact advertised. It took emails and a note from the Gluten Intolerance Group of N. America to Celiac Awareness Tour before the support group got the small amount of money that had been promised and it was only received about 3 or more months after the event.

Do you sense a pattern here? I get the feeling I’ve only scratched the surface but frankly I’ve heard enough.

So here is my question…is the Celiac Awareness Tour just a poorly run operation or are they crooks? Are they bad business people or are they bad people?

To my fellow celiacs and the gluten-free vendors out there, I would seriously think twice about doing business with this organization. When something happens once or twice, it could be an accident. When it happens this frequently, it seems more like a business model.

And to you Lou, I’m not sure what to say. I’d love to give you the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps you’re just in over your head. Or maybe I’m being naive and you’re strictly in this for the money…everything else be damned. Frankly, I don’t give a crap why you’re in this. But you’re hurting people. You’re hurting my fellow celiacs. You need to refund every damn penny that is owed to people who trusted you and you need to change the way you do things…immediately.

It’s called doing the right thing and like I said, it’s just not that difficult.

(Dude note: As I am writing this post, the woman who owns the bakery just heard from Lou Reyes and he said they are sending her $395 immediately via certified check. Score one for justice.)

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29 thoughts on “Is The Celiac Awareness Tour Ripping People Off?”

  1. “check’s in the mail” ranks right up there with “I’ll still respect you in the morning”

    (that’s all I got)

    Happy Friday!

  2. GD-

    Great post. Hope this Lou Reyes isn’t a scammer. Hey Lou, why don’t you respond personally to this post and tell these good people what the bleep is happening. How about a little truth here?? Obviously this “business” that you are operating isn’t working out so well. We got some jobs here in Jersey cleaning up sh*t from Hurricane Sandy, that might be better for ya.

    Cheers!
    Jersey Girl

  3. As part of an all volunteer staff for several fish events in colorado I know how easy it is for the left side to not pay attention to what the right (or even the driver) are doing. Its frustrating, difficult & publically embarassing. When it comes to things like health permits there is ZERO excuse for last minute “oops we can’t meet the standard required”…none, zero, zip excuse! Right after signing contract for venue (if not before) these details should be confirmed. While advanced ticket sales may have an event operating in the red, again their is a duty to vendors to not cancel at the last minute (especially if you expect them to work with you again). Apologies can be made about low attendance or more advertising can be done…hell have the gluten free band wagon run through town & pick people up if necessary! But canceling when vendors are in route or have been working for weeks to prepare IS NOT AN OPTION (even if it means a financial loss on a particular stop). This is the exact reason its called a BUSINESS & not “tons of profit for me with little effort”!

  4. As someone who deals with national gluten free events, the CAT is one of the most expensive events around. They charge about $400 per show and only expect 400 attendees (works out to $1 per attendee). Other shows, such as the Salt Lake City Expo, charge from $700 to $1200 and have over 8,000 attendees ($0.09 per attendee). Of course that doesn’t factor in other event costs (travel, hotel, booth furniture, etc). It really can be quite expensive to attend events and we found that the CAT events really weren’t worth the money.

  5. I was asked to attend this event but declined after checking in to it, now I’m glad I did. I really don’t think these food fairs always benefit celiac people with all of their displays of highly processed foods that you could live without.

  6. Wow. Just wow. To me, it sounds like the event was cancelled because it was not going to be a gold mine. And to cancel it so carelessly a day before?

    They should be reported to the BBB. http://www.bbb.org/

    Do you know if advance ticket holders were able to get a refund?

  7. Thanks Gluten Dude,

    I managed to escape them unscathed, but I had them hire a friend of mine to hand out samples for $200 pay at the SF event. Lou said his cash box was stolen the morning of the event so he would have to send a check. He never did and my friend says the main phone line for the expo is now disconnected. Any tips for getting a hold of Lou?

    The SF event was a total failure. About 40 guests attended all weekend, and a table was $600. They asked me to pay $995 to do a demonstration too. I’m thanking my lucky stars I did not pay, as I had 0 customers in my audience.

    Thanks for writing this,

    Sadie

      1. Thank you Gluten Dude. I am said friend of Sadie’s who worked all weekend for Lou in San Francisco 6 weeks ago and have yet to receive my agreed-upon pay. It came as a shock; he and his business partner Andy presented as unbelievably charming and friendly people. But countless unanswered emails, phone calls, and invoices later, all I want is for any potential suckers to be spared the disappointment and betrayal. Of course, my $200 would be nice too. I hope Lou reads this and feels the intense shame he should from capitalizing on the ill, the hard-working, the sympathetic, and the trusting. You have my support in bringing “awareness” (ha!) of his intense failure to the gluten free community.

        -Nate

        P.S. I give them credit for the huevos it must have taken to do this, especially with their ludicrous cash box theft spiel.

        1. Hello,
          I work for the venue in SF and he stiffed us as well. $4825.00! We have tried to contact him several times via phone, email and even Facebook (he has now blocked me, but did contact me and asked me to stop commenting on his posts). Our event mgr said that he saw the broken window and said he thought Lou was genuine. We now believe he broke his own window so he didn’t have to pay for use of the facility. When Lou contacted me 2 weeks ago, he said he was not directly involved with the tour any longer and I would need to contact Pat (part time bookkeeper). Scott is the new man in charge of the tour. Fort Mason Center is a non-profit organization that relies heavily on revenue from events held in our facilities to support the local arts community around the Bay Area. The loss from his event has impacted us.

  8. Kim64 you are such an asset to the world of Celiacs and I’m sure many other. When I read that, I think SCAM and the reason why sometimes, just sometimes I hate people!:) I volunteered for so much and it’s a lot of work, thanks for post, Kim

  9. I did receive a refund as an attendee for the Philly Tour. However, last time I checked other attendees had not received refunds.

  10. I’m dying for the “Nobody puts baby in a corner” blog. It’s my favorite phrase and I use it constantly. My kids have no idea where I got it but they now use the phrase as well. As far as the Gluten Awareness Tour…..they need to be put in the corner.

    1. I, too, admit to using “nobody puts baby in a corner” often. 🙂

      and I am always disturbed when someone doesn’t get that.

      I mean, watching Dirty Dancing is a rite of passage for pete’s sake..isn’t it? isn’t it?
      ….someone help me here….lol

        1. I live in Florida now. The population here is a cross- section of active over 55-ers.
          I just made the cut. 🙂

          I feel VERY young. lol

  11. Thanks for outing this ‘organization’. I got involved with the Greeneville issue and threatened to out them. They claimed to have no idea there was a problem. I have spoken to multiple people who have not been paid monies promised for travel/speaking fees.

    I have run events like this and permit issues are always addressed up front and they aren’t a surprise. Monies should be refunded to vendors when management fails to do its due diligence

    I have never stiffed a vendor and this group continues with bad business practices. Why do vendors keep signing up and how do they keep sponsorships?

  12. The photograph you are using is of me. It implies that the buyer beware of me. Please remove it from this page. Thank you.

  13. Interesting. They came into town (Houston area) a little after your favorite Dr O. hosted an expo and little before the big GFAF expo in Dallas. So I didn’t bother going because I hadn’t heard much press on it, and frankly, I was starting to feel saturated by such events. I figured they were not a well run business, because they’re marketing was poor (I hadn’t heard of them!) and they didn’t seem to know/care about other players on the scene. I’m usually the type of person who gives the benefit of doubt… they are just not good at business, but hopefully not bad people. But then again, I keep getting disappointed by my own optimistic beliefs. I don’t know what to say anymore. Sometimes, the gluten-free space reminds me of the Wild West, like gold miners and brothel owners on Deadwood. Everyone’s out to stake a claim. And without regulation and a sheriff in town… anything goes.

  14. Thanks for this post! I purchased two tickets online in advance to attend this event and have not gotten a refund yet even though I was contacted and asked if I preferred a refund or tickets to their November event. I would like to have my $16 back. I know it’s not much compared to what some vendors have lost but it still irks me. Thanks for letting us know that this is indeed a big issue. I thought they were just taking their sweet time but after reading this post I now realize I can kiss that $16 goodbye forever.

  15. Gluten Dude,

    I was approached to be an official blogger at their Chicago stop, that was SUPPOSED to be held on October 26th and 27th 2013. That was another cancellation. However, rather than being contacted by anyone from the Celiac/Gluten Free Awareness Tour, I had to contact the hotel the morning of only to find out the hotel had no record or the event. I emailed them several times, posted on their FB wall (which has since been removed), and on their Twitter page, and I even called them and left a vm asking about the event. Not one person had the decency to even return the call or notify anyone in advance that this stop was also cancelled. I even posted on vendor’s walls asking if they had any info about the event. How crappy this is to do this to people. People who have taken the time to post about their other stops, and tried to help promote the tour, rearranged home scheduleds to attend the event, and then NOTHING. The whole thing still pisses me off. Thanks for sharing the info about this.

    Maryann
    Allergy Warriors & Gluten Free Living

  16. Thank you very much for writing this post. I wanted to add in what I have said to you before and expound because I feel this issue taints all events. Being that I do run events all over the US, I have made mistakes along the way that were honest mistakes to make, so I don’t discount human error in learning how to do events for the community. But as I mentioned before to you, I have been running events for 5 years now and NEVER have cancelled an event.

    I do events in some areas that are virtually GF wastelands when it comes to products and had low attendance , for which we have had to suck up the costs. But in my opinion, those areas NEED the awareness that said company touts.There is never a good reason to cancel an event when so many people (vendors, sponsors, speakers, & attendees) are banking on you. That being said, it is discouraging that so many people view events as merely a food fest and feel so intensely that they are not good for anyone. GFAF Wellness Events feature a large portion of local vendors with healthy products, organic living knowledge, health coaches, and all kinds of resources. We have raised over $1600 for Camp Weekaneatit in 2013. That’s enough to send 3 children with celiac to summer camp who could not afford to attend.

    It is unfair to all events for a negative view to taint the good we can achieve with communing with others we relate to, learning from knowledgeable sources, and raising money for local support groups or national research centers. I certainly hope Lou Reyes will refund the vendors/attendees/sponsors who are out of money and not bleed anymore onto those of us who value the community and have drained our own accounts in order to make a difference even when the ticket sales weren’t good.

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Who I am. And who I'm not.

Who I am. And who I'm not.

I AM someone who's been gluten-free since 2007 due to a diagnosis of severe celiac disease. I'm someone who can steer you in the right direction when it comes to going gluten-free. And I'm someone who will always give you the naked truth about going gluten free.

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