Lawmaker calling on attorney general to investigate closing of RealEats

(Update: 3/8/23) – At least one state lawmaker is now calling on New York State Attorney General Tish James to investigate the sudden closure of RealEats in Geneva.

Assemblyman Jeff Gallahan says his office has been in touch with a number of RealEats employees who were shocked by its sudden closure, “I hadn’t heard anything in the community, I hadn’t heard anything from anybody about a problem with RealEats, nothing about financial problems of any kind at all so, when this announcement came out, I was totally taken back, I was flabbergasted,” he says.  Then, he learned that RealEats had failed to file a WARN notice with the NYS Department of Labor, “I got the Department of Labor and the rapid response team out there immediately and when they got to the door, they weren’t let in either…I feel really, really bad for the disrespect they showed their employees by doing this,” Gallahan tells News10NBC.

In addition to the sudden closure, RealEats was also awarded millions of taxpayer dollars in the form of grants and tax-breaks over the course of the last 5 years, “we need to get to the bottom of it, we need to find out if there is any wrong-doing and if there isn’t any wrongdoing, if it’s simply mismanagement of funds or if something crazy was going on in the company,” Gallahan says.

Terri Meeks worked at RealEats in Geneva for a little more than a year, “I loved working there,” she told News10NBC, “everybody got along, we all thought we were like a second family.”  Meeks says back in October, there was a staff meeting, “they said they were not downsizing but cutting some hours for some people on 3rd shift,” she recalls.  Employees were told business was just a little slow because of the holidays, but it seemed to pick back up after the first year.

Then, a few weeks ago the employees were told they would be moving to a four-day work week, that lasted for two weeks before they were called into a meeting on Monday, March 1st and let go.  They were handed a letter that said the company was closing immediately.  No apology for the lack of notice and no information about unemployment services was provided.

GENEVA, N.Y. A Geneva-based company that delivered chef-created, ready-to-cook meals sourced with products from the Finger Lakes has suddenly closed its doors.

Roughly 160 employees of RealEats have been left stunned and out of work and New York State taxpayers and retirees who have invested millions of dollars in grants and tax breaks are now in the red. The company started in 2017 and was originally located in the Geneva Enterprise Development Center, a local business incubator.

But business took off during the pandemic and in June of 2022, RealEats moved to a new 80,000-square-foot production facility in the town of Geneva. CEO Dan Wise told News10NBC at the time that business was so good that he needed more space and more staff to keep up, but less than a year later, the facility is closed and the employees are out of work.

State leaders took notice of the growth and basically threw money at RealEats. RealEats was awarded $1 million through the NYS’s Grow-NY Food and Agriculture business competition and it was the beneficiary of a $2.7 million investment from Excell Partners, the administrator of the Finger Lakes Forward Venture Capital Fund.

Additionally, through its in-state private equity investment program, State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli invested $7.8 million in RealEats in five separate investments through its partners, Armory Square Ventures and Hamilton Lane.

“The news about RealEats closing shows just how difficult an environment it is for young companies operating in a high inflation, post-pandemic economy,” said DiNapoli’s Director of Communications Jennifer Freeman. “We are hopeful that the employees will quickly be able to find work, but this is sad news for a company with great potential.”

The fund lost its investment but Freeman says that’s why the state has a diversified portfolio as some investments do not generate returns. Overall, the in-state investment program has an 11% rate of return and returned over $1.6 billion on $888 million invested.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the New York State Department of Labor tells News10NBC, “We have not received a WARN notice from RealEats. Employers that fail to file WARN in NYS face a civil penalty of $500 per day of violation for up to 60 days. Employers in violation are also liable for back pay and other benefits for 60 days of the violation.”

On its Facebook page, RealEats posted a notice that reads, “Attention former Real Eats Employees: Workforce Development has been contacted, and RealEats employees are urged to utilize its job placement services. You will likely qualify for unemployment benefits and additional job training and placement help.”

As for customers of RealEats, the company required auto-pay for its weekly service. News10NBC has been unable to get through to anyone at RealEats to assure that those auto-pays have been disconnected so customers should keep a close eye on your statements.