July 22, 2024

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After Isanti wedding venue closes, sister business in Cottage Grove in financial trouble

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The owners of an Isanti wedding venue that abruptly closed in April are facing financial peril with a second reception hall in Cottage Grove.

The shutdown of the Circle B, a wedding barn in Isanti, left several couples with no place to celebrate their nuptials — and no refunds.

On Tuesday, a company affiliated with a Cottage Grove wedding venue also operated by Wayne and Angela Butt, the Historic John P. Furber Farm, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The company, called GFY and owned by the Butts, owns the wedding venue’s real estate.

The Butts and another affiliated company, Historic John P. Furber Farm LLC, are listed in federal bankruptcy filings as GFY’s co-debtors.

Chapter 11 protection allows a business to reorganize its finances while shielding it from litigation and the claims of its creditors. Normally, businesses continue operating during the process.

Attorneys for GFY did not return calls for comment on the wedding venue, nor did Furber Farm. Wayne and Angela Butt could not be reached for comment.

The Butts bought the Furber farm in 2010 and turned it into a wedding venue. They opened Circle B in 2023. In April, Circle B customers received emails saying the venue was permanently closed because of rising costs, a changing economy and competition from newer businesses.

The bankruptcy filing shows Furber Farm and GFY have been embroiled in litigation, and within the past month the companies were hit with an adverse judgment of over $700,000.

A Farmington company, This Little Piggy Catering, sued GFY and the Historic John P. Furber Farm in Dakota County District Court two years ago. This Little Piggy claimed in that lawsuit that it signed a contract with Furber Farm to provide exclusive catering services for 15 years.

Furber Farm breached the contract in 2020 by allowing other caterers to serve the venue, This Little Piggy claimed in the lawsuit. The caterer also alleged that Furber Farm fraudulently transferred ownership of the venue to GFY to avoid any claims against it by This Little Piggy.

On May 30, Dakota County Judge Kathryn Iverson Landrum ordered a default judgment against GFY and Furber Farm for This Little Piggy’s claims of breach of contract and fraudulent transfer. GFY and Furber had agreed to a judgment a few weeks earlier, court records indicate.

Earlier this month, the judge ordered that This Little Piggy could collect on the judgment directly from Wayne and Angela Butt, holding them personally liable. The judge also sequestered the assets of GFY and Furber Farm until This Little Piggy recovered the money.

GFY valued the judgment at $766,442 in its bankruptcy filing, listing This Little Piggy as its largest unsecured creditor. Lake Elmo Bank has a secured claim of $2.3 million on the Furber Farm property. GFY listed total assets of $2.8 million and liabilities of $3.3 million.

Neither Circle B nor the Butts have filed for bankruptcy, federal court records indicate.

But the Butts face eight lawsuits in state district court from Circle B customers claiming they lost deposits ranging from $4,357 to $9,077 when the wedding venue closed.

The Butts also face a $773,627 judgment related to a lawsuit filed in Washington County District Court by a couple whose property abuts the Furber Farm. Steven and Kathleen Geis claimed that Wayne Butt uprooted 115 trees on their property without permission.

Last month, Judge Gregory Galler ordered the Butts to pay $248,270 to replace the trees. The judge tripled the award under a state law prohibiting the intentional removal of trees from another person’s property without “lawful authority.” He also awarded the Geises $28,817 for soil remediation.

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