The former owner of Blowfish Sushi to Die For is preparing legal action after a ghost kitchen opened in the former Blowfish space at 2193 Mission Street, using the Blowfish name and logo and fulfilling delivery orders on DoorDash and Seamless, with no actual ties to the former brand. It's reminiscent of a story that broke over a year ago in San Francisco, centering on Michelin-starred Thai restaurant Kin Khao.
You may recall that Blowfish Sushi closed its original Bryant Street location in 2019 after 23 years in business, following the closures of newer branches in San Jose and West Hollywood. Chef Ritsuo Tsuchida and partner Jason Teplitsky had also opened Tawara Sake in 2018 in the space near 18th and Mission that was formerly Weird Fish, later rebranding it Hell's Ramen, and then, in November 2019, rechristening it Blowfish Sushi with a menu very similar to the original. That Blowfish Sushi would only live another year, closing in December 2020 having been forced into the takeout-only game for eight months.
The awning stayed up, but Tsuchida and Teplitsky moved on, still owning the trademark and Blowfish name.
At some point in the last two months, as the Chronicle reports, an unidentified new owner moved into the space and began selling nigiri on the apps under the Blowfish Sushi name. And that's not all! The apparent ghost kitchen also allegedly assumed the trademark of Tokyo-based Wagyumafia, a restaurant that sells Wagyu beef nigiri as well as an internet-famous $185 steak sandwich.
Local food writer Tamara Palmer was hoodwinked by the listing for "SF wagyu mafia" on DoorDash and ordered their $35 A5 Wagyu nigiri, only to be disappointed and write about it on 48 Hills — though she did say it tasted good. She was later contacted by the real Wagyumafia telling her this was an imposter.
"I fell for a high-end okie-doke earlier this week and would like to make sure it doesn’t happen to you!" Palmer wrote in an update. "Despite appearances, a new takeout ghost kitchen operating as SF Wagyumafia and offering menu items such as a cutlet sandwich for $180 ... is not affiliated with the popular Wagyumafia from Japan and Hong Kong."
Others have fallen for the Blowfish scam, with several adding reviews to the former Blowfish's Yelp page about delivery orders they placed in February.
Teplitsky is, understandably, pissed, and he's threatening "a world of serious lawyership." He showed up at 2193 Mission on Friday, reportedly screaming at the staff who was there, and everyone is claiming ignorance — including saying they don't know who the owner is. A manager, Kevin Chen, tells the Chronicle that the new owners simply used the name because the awning was still there, and they were planning on changing it — but that seems disingenuous given the menu similarities, and the fact that, according to Teplitsky, they filed for a business license in January as Blowfish Mission.
"I don’t know what to think,” Teplitsky tells the Chronicle. "How does someone decide to do something like this? Did they think we all got COVID and died?"
As for impersonating Wagyumafia at the same time, allegedly out of the same address, Chen claims total ignorance, saying, "maybe it was a pop-up" when questioned by the Chronicle. Wagyumafia, which filed for a U.S. trademark in 2018 and had been plotting a possible SF location, is contemplating its own legal action.
Per the Chronicle, the awning and Blowfish signage have been painted over since Teplitsky's confrontation, and the menu has also changed — now featuring things like lobster risotto. But as of Monday, the Blowfish name and logo were apparently still being used on delivery apps — though currently the Blowfish listing on DoorDash shows up as "temporarily closed." On GrubHub, it's a fully live listing.
And "Sf wagyu mafia" is still live on DoorDash, as seen below, selling a $180 "Wagyu katsu sando." Is anyone actually ordering this??
In January 2020, Kin Khao owner Pim Techamuanvivit took to social media to tell the story of getting a phone call at her restaurant about a delivery order from an app, in which she had to tell the caller that Kin Khao did not do delivery or takeout and never had (that changed during the pandemic, of course). She quickly realized that Kin Khao had been listed on Seamless and Grubhub unbeknownst to her — this was through a shady practice in the app industry in which they put restaurants up on spec in the hope of luring them into contracts eventually — and making matters worse, the apps had apparently confused Kin Khao with the similarly named Happy Khao Thai, a ghost kitchen operating out of a separate location. The items sold by Happy Khao were listed on a menu on both apps with Kin Khao's name above it.
I told him we’ve never been on it, not in our entirely lifetime as @kinkhao. He sounded really confused, so we said goodbye and I hung up the phone. Then I got a little curious, so I went into the office and googled “kin khao delivery”, and guess what came up.. pic.twitter.com/cptMoYtoZu— Pim Techamuanvivit (@chezpim) January 26, 2020
That debacle led to a law being passed in California late last year, which took effect in January, barring delivery apps from non-consensually creating these restaurant listings.
But that doesn't help in the case of Blowfish Sushi's name being co-opted the month after it closed by a new operator, though perhaps Seamless and DoorDash will consider the claims of the rightful owner of the brand and penalize the co-opters somehow.
It's just another cautionary tale about ordering off of delivery apps — whatever you're getting may be coming from a ghost kitchen, and if you want to order from a trusted restaurant, it's always better to do it directly — and if they do takeout by phone you can save them from paying a cut to the app.
Previously: One Ghost Kitchen Complex In SoMa Is Making Food For Dozens of Delivery Brands