Over the past few years, the well-designed Abe’s Pagoda has shaped a sort of Tiki-tinted version of Chinese cuisine on Wyckoff Avenue. But earlier this month, they noticed that someone else was also using the handsome Godfather-y moniker to sell a similar selection of miso-spicy food on DoorDash.
The only problem was that Abe’s Pagoda already indexed its menu on other restaurant apps, like Grubhub and its subsidiary Seamless. Nonetheless, Abe’s Pagoda was on DoorDash, offering an odd version of their menu, with her orders disappearing regardless of which account had registered the restaurant. After a long online protest, listening on DoorDash has quietly disappeared.
The phenomenon of online counterfeits in the digital catering market is not uncommon. In early April, the San Francisco Chronicle delivered the news that a well-known blowfish sushi joint, shortly after closing amid the pandemic, discovered its name was listed on DoorDash, UberEats and Seamless, which were mysteriously operated by unknown parties. More interesting, perhaps, than the futuristic maze of ghost kitchens that apps are thrilled to celebrate is the mysterious world of ghost lists, menus that appear on the app like a familiar facsimile of corner bars, and of bodegas but which do not correspond anywhere. Of course, the fictional restaurant has long been part of the catering app experience: in 2015, a local affiliate of NBC reported that 10% of the top restaurants listed on Seamless and GrubHub in New York City “had names or addresses that didn’t match any list in the city’s restaurant inspection score database.”
A more recent local experience concerns accounts operating on the site entirely disconnected from the restaurateurs themselves.
“We have brought in a driver, looking for a delivery, and I am searching for the [app] and there are three active deliveries underway, âFernando Strohmeyer, who runs Aunt Ginny’s I Like Food in Ridgewood, told Bushwick Daily. After briefly trying Grubhub at the start of the pandemic, Strohmeyer decided it wasn’t worth drastically reducing the app’s deliveries, so he decided to handle the deliveries on his own.
But Grubhub was not done with him. Orders kept pouring in and confused drivers kept showing up, waiting to pick up sandwiches he hadn’t made in months. It was grating. He called every customer who had ordered and tried to explain the confusion. âPlease don’t associate me with this bad transaction,â he implored.
Calls to Grubhub hadn’t helped either, he said. The account would collapse and then reappear. More recently, an account appeared under the name of Aunt Ginny, the bar in which her pop-up has long been operating. No one from the bar was involved in its creation and the menu he mysteriously generated looked slightly and eerily like the one he operates himself. Where it comes from and what it is used for remains unknown.
As companies like Grubhub have grown larger and more ubiquitous, their operations have become automated and operated by algorithms that mercilessly scan the internet for data. Class action lawsuit filed against company in federal court last year claims that Grubhub automatically creates landing pages and generates menus for most restaurants in major cities, even those that don’t use the app at all, to trick Google into listing Grubhub’s site above any site. Web operated by the restaurant. The site will often tell customers that the restaurant they searched for is currently closed and alert them to nearby restaurants that partner with Grubhub, depending on the costume. Earlier this year, Grubhub agreed to pay $ 450,000 in legal fees as part of a settlement with some of the restaurants in the case, but refused to admit any wrongdoing.
In Ridgewood, Strohmeyer is demoralized.
âThey just won’t stop. They’ll take it out for a little while and it’ll be available again three weeks later, âhe says of his own experiences with the app.
The experience has kept Strohmeyer from working with delivery apps, and he’s not alone.
Colleen Bock, a bar owner who had been behind Father Knows Best in Bushwick and now operates the recently opened Acre on Forest Avenue, confirmed to Bushwick Daily that she had experienced the same when the restaurant opened its tumultuous in the midst of last year’s pandemic.
âI despise delivery apps,â she says.
Top photo credit: Andrew Karpan
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