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Web design company BentoBox has a motto: “We help restaurants not suck on the internet.” But the company founded in 2013 by Krystle Mobayeni is actually causing problems for local restaurants.
It started for Jackie Greenbaum, who co-owns the Petworth burger joint Slash Run, a few months ago. She was surprised one day when she overheard someone talking about her restaurant’s website because at that point it had been down pending an update and redesign for a couple of months. She says that when she explained that she didn’t have a website just then, “Someone said, ‘Oh yeah, you do,’ and I’m like, ‘Oh shit.’”
That’s when Greenbaum discovered www.slashrundc.com—not to be confused with the restaurant’s actual website www.slashrun.com. Customers searching for the restaurant were navigating to the imposter website, which contains inaccurate information and has clearly been created to net Slash Run as a client.
Washingtonians waking up groggy on a Sunday morning craving a burger may not notice the fine print at the top of the faux site that reads, “If you’re the owner of Slash Run & would like to claim this website, email email@example.com.”
The sham website not only has the wrong menu (there’s no $11 shrimp cocktail, nor is there a $13 tuna sandwich) but the hours are wrong too, causing customers to show up to a locked door. “I don’t like the idea that that’s happened,” Greenbaum says.
In an effort to stop BentoBox “from hijacking our name in a shady attempt to get business,” Greenbaum emailed the company earlier this year but never heard back. “I’ve had a number of complaints about it,” she says. “I can’t be the only person they’ve done this to trying to get business.”
A website for Bunna Ethiopian Cafe (1400 L St. NW) has language at the top identical to what BentoBox included for Slash Run. A Bunna representative tells CP the restaurant didn’t know about the site but now plans to contact the company.
The same language is on websites for Universal Doughnuts (2012 T St. NW), Keren (1780 Florida Ave. NW), and an Indonesian food truck called Nom Nom that services D.C. In all cases, Yelp includes the url of these web addresses, complicating the problem because important information like hours of operation don’t always match up. For example, Keren’s Yelp page says the restaurant opens at 9 a.m. on Sundays, while the BentoBox placeholder site says 8 a.m. The Ethiopian/Eritrean restaurant confirms that 9 a.m. is correct.
Slash Run, Nom Nom, Universal Doughnuts, and Keren are not listed on the BentoBox website, which locally only displays Jaleo, Rose’s Luxury, Daikaya, and Texas Jacks (in Virginia) as clients. The majority of restaurants that hire BentoBox are in New York, including heavy hitters like Eleven Madison Park, Gramercy Tavern, and The Spotted Pig.
BentoBox rep Daniela Momo says the company has discontinued the creation of dummy sites. “We tried that at one point, but we’re no longer doing that.” Now, she adds, “We get all of our customers through referrals.” Maybe so, but there are still some zombie sites causing confusion.