Toronto restaurants allege food order firm Tasteaway.com owes $100K
Eatery owners say the firm kept taking orders until it shut down this week
At least 20 restaurant owners allege they are owed a collective $100,000 by food delivery website Tasteaway.com, which folded abruptly on Monday, CBC News has learned.
Giuseppe Lisozzi owns Amato Pizza on College Street and claims TasteAway.com owes him $15,000 for the hundreds of pizzas, sandwiches and pasta dishes ordered through the website.
And Lisozzi said he's now going into debt to keep his popular restaurant open.
"I have to borrow money to pay the rent, to pay the expenses," he said.
Lisozzi is just one of 20 restaurant owners who spoke with CBC News. They all said they were promised a boost in business thanks to online customers attracted through the food delivery website.
Struggling to stay afloat
But instead, many of those owners claim they lost money on the venture, leaving some struggling to keep their businesses afloat.
TasteAway.com set up an arrangement with each of those customers, promising to take the online orders, then collect the payments for meals, tips and delivery charges, the owners say. The website would pocket a small fee for its services, but would pass the rest of the money on to the eateries every two weeks.
But the restaurant owners who spoke to CBC News say they haven't received full payments from TasteAway.com in months.
Since it began operating in 2012, TasteAway.com worked with more than 300 restaurants including The Magic Oven on Danforth Avenue.
"For about a year, everything went well," owner Tony Sabherwal said.
And then in March, Tasteaway.com stopped making payments, he said.
"The first time we realized there were missing amounts at the bank, we called them and they said they'd had some glitch in their computer system," he said. "The second time… they said they had changed their bank account.
"The third time nobody took our calls."
Magic Oven ended its relationship with the delivery firm. But by then, Sabherwal said that he'd already lost $14,600.
Other restaurant owners received financial statements prepared by Tasteaway.com, detailing deposits made into their firms' bank accounts, according to documents shown to CBC. But when the restaurant owners actually checked their accounts, the deposits had never been transferred, the owners said.
When they contacted Tasteaway.com's Toronto offices about the issue, they say they were promised the payments would follow.
'We tried calling every day'
A popular Thai restaurant with locations at Danforth Avenue and on Queen Street East in the beaches, began using Tasteaway.com's services in August 2014. Co-owner William Liu said that the delivery firm owes him $30,000 for meals ordered through the website since then.
"We tried calling every day, they kept making excuses."
Tasteaway.com was still soliciting and receiving payments for online orders up until just a few hours before it suddenly ceased operations on October 5.
While the ownership of TasteAway.com is unclear, documents from Industry Canada say the corporate director is Omar Sahyoun. In an email exchange, the 33-year-old Toronto resident told CBC News he was never an owner or shareholder in the delivery firm.
"I was there to help the company raise funding or find an acquirer, helping with certain operational needs along the way informally," he wrote.
Sahyoun declined to answer more specific questions about the company's ownership.
Several restaurant owners and a former employee, however, described Sahyoun as the person in charge.
The restaurant owners are considered unsecured creditors, Sahyoun wrote to CBC when asked about the alleged missed payments.
He blamed the company's closure on intense competition and trouble securing the necessary capital.
Sahyoun denied making any money off Tasteaway.com, but some restaurant owners questioned what appears to be his lavish lifestyle. The entrepreneur's public social media accounts show a Tuxedo-clad businessman posing for pictures earlier this year in Monaco. He is also seen relaxing in a hot tub in Italy, and on a beach at a Mexican resort.
Another photo shows Sahyoun at an exclusive South Beach hotel in Miami.
But financial records obtained by CBC News show Sahyoun borrowed almost $30,000 last year to purchase a 2008 Land Rover SUV. The loan was co-signed by his girlfriend.
Connection to TeamBuy.ca
Tasteaway.com is not the first company Sahyoun has been associated with that has run into financial difficulties.
He also described himself as the co-founder of online retail site TeamBuy.ca in his LinkedIn account, which became insolvent, along with its parent company Couch Commerce Inc., last year.
Records from the Office for the Superintendent of Bankruptcy Canada show the company had more than $12 million in liabilities.
Tasteway.com was an offshoot of TeamBuy.ca.
One of Sahyoun's partners at TeamBuy.ca also joined him at the food delivery service. But Ghassan Halazon told CBC News that while he was on Tasteaway.com's board of directors, he resigned in August 2014.
Tasteaway.com shut down its website and social media accounts shortly after CBC News approached the firm for a comment.
The restaurant owners say they have approached police to file complaints. Police told them, however, they have to pursue the matter through the civil courts rather than seeking criminal charges, the owners said.
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