Vancouver restaurant owner talks review-bombing after receiving dozens of baseless complaints

Mar 16 2023, 11:06 pm

Over the weekend, a Japanese restaurant in Vancouver was bombarded with dozens of negative reviews, which included claims of racism and assault by staff. 

However, the owner says many of the folks who wrote in, never actually visited the restaurant. 

According to Justin Ault, his restaurant Hapa Izakaya received about 40 one-star reviews about a day after he had an encounter with an angry customer. 

Ault explained to Daily Hive that the customer joined a guest dining at the restaurant Saturday evening and later expressed that he had an issue with the 90-minute dining time limit. This policy is usually enforced during busy business hours. 

“He proceeded to lecture me about how our policy was ridiculous,” Ault claims. 

According to the owner, the customer asked him, “Well, what if I don’t leave? [Are you] gonna throw me out?”

Which is when Ault said he responded saying, “I’d rather not.”

“Well, what if I don’t pay my bill?” the customer apparently responded. 

“I said well, ‘I guess I’ll call the police,'” Ault said. 

The customer allegedly refused to pay his bill after not ordering much. He owed the restaurant $5. 

After telling the man, “It’s time to leave,” and him refusing, Ault said he counted to 10 but the man did not get up. 

“He just gave me this arrogant smirk and I helped him out of the restaurant,” he said. 

Ault added that another restaurant guest helped escort the man out “because the guy was taking swings at me and actually did punch me in the face or elbow me in the face.”

After returning from the encounter, people in the restaurant congratulated Ault on his action to remove the man from the restaurant, he said. 

Ault said Vancouver police officers responded to the scene but he decided not to file charges against the customer who did not pay his bill. 

Daily Hive reached out to the VPD but it was not able to confirm if officers responded to the incident. 

One-star reviews roll in 24 hours later 

While Ault thought the interaction was the end of it, negative reviews started to roll in about a day later. 

First reviews claimed to say Hapa Izakaya had poor service, rude staff, and terrible food but then evolved into people claiming they witnessed the encounter between Ault and the customer. 

Some reviews claimed the incident was racially charged and the customer was physically assaulted. 

Justin Ault/screenshots

Justin Ault/screenshots

Justin Ault/screenshots

Ault says the claims that the encounter was racially motivated had him scratching his head. 

“Because I’m like racist to a white guy? As far as I know, he’s Caucasian,” the owner of Japanese and British descent said. 

After searching up the names of the people who posted reviews of the restaurant on Facebook, many of the people come up as people who live in Montreal. 

“And it just became very apparent that it was a concerted effort.”

Ault believes the customer from the previous night told his friends and family to write negative reviews for the restaurant. 

Daily Hive reached out to several people that left reviews but did not receive a response. 

Ault admitted he has considered the possibility that his restaurant was targeted because it is an Asian restaurant. 

The impact reviews have on restaurant’s success

Ault admits he appreciates the customer vocalizing his concerns with him the day he dined but setting off in an attempt to ruin the restaurant’s reputation was “crossing a line.” 

“[Negative reviews] can be very damaging. We’ve been around 20 years now and I think our reputation and restaurant as a business, my staff, and myself, are pretty solid. We’re not perfect. But I think that anyone who’s dined in our restaurant, at least 99.3% of them, have had a great experience.”

Many of the reviews have since been deleted by Google, Ault confirmed. However, if it wasn’t for Google taking down the comments, he said, it could have been damaging to the restaurant.

“If I just opened up three months ago or six months ago, something like this without that depth of positive reviews and love from the community, it could be disastrous.”

Reviews also impact other customers that would consider visiting the restaurant, Ault added. So if there are false negative reviews with serious allegations, he says they lose future business.

With files from Megan Devlin

Nikitha MartinsNikitha Martins

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