Two eateries in Singapore have sent letters of demand to one eatery seeking compensation for defamation.
The Japanese eatery, Ishiro, was allegedly involved in posting a slew of negative online reviews of the other two eateries.
The two outlets affected then engaged lawyer Clarence Lun from Fervent Law Chambers to represent them.
Mentai-ya Japanese Cuisine, which has three outlets, is seeking S$70,000 in damages.
The Social Outcast, a restaurant at Turf Club, is seeking S$50,000 in damages.
Letter of demand sent
The owners of Mentai-ya and The Social Outcast told Mothership that letters of demand were sent to Ishiro on Sep. 15 and 16.
Copies of the letters were forwarded to Mothership.
The compensation sought is for "false and defamatory comments and reviews" that caused "significant damage to their business reputation" and caused the owners to suffer "emotional and mental distress".
The letters of demand stated that Ishiro had caused and/ or allowed employees to publish false and defamatory negative comments and reviews against the other two eateries.
This was allegedly done pseudonymously using multiple Facebook and Google accounts.
The individuals named in the letters of demand were Wen Bin and Deon Goh, who are associated with Ishiro.
The company that operates Ishiro is OSEAS.
Goh is the owner and director of OSEAS.
Mentai-ya and The Social Outcast are also asking for all the negative reviews to be removed and for Ishiro to issue an unequivocal public apology to be posted on its Facebook page for four weeks.
The current apology posted said Ishiro and an employee are taking responsibility.
The apology said: "Ishiro assumes full responsibility for our actions", as well as "we take full responsibility of the actions of our employee and we will ensure that such actions will not be tolerated in the future".
An undertaking is also sought from Ishiro not to further publish such statements.
Why Mentai-ya and The Social Outcast pursuing matter via legal means
Khoo Keat Hwee, 34, who owns Mentai-ya, told Mothership that his eatery’s sales had been affected during the duration the negative reviews were put up between June to August 2021.
He said business dropped by up to 20 per cent over this period.
Aminurrashid Hasnordin, 41, The Social Outcast’s owner, told Mothership he wants to put an end to such antics of putting down another competitor in the F&B industry where everyone is facing challenges now.
Khoo said the one-star reviews on Google appeared in May 2021 for his three Mentai-ya outlets.
The one-star reviews caused the overall score of one of his newer outlets to fall below 2.5 out of 5 at one point, he said.
Mentai-ya's first outlet is in Bukit Panjang, with two others in Sengkang and Tampines.
The poor reviews led to Khoo to apologise publicly in a video uploaded on Mentai-ya’s Facebook in end-June, as he felt his business could do better, he said.
He had ignored the reviews initially, but they started to grow in numbers and caused him to become demoralised, he told Mothership.
But Khoo subsequently grew suspicious when it appeared that five-star reviews for Ishiro were penned by the same group of eight to nine reviewers.
He then started to investigate.
Eventually, Khoo made two police reports after he claimed to have found evidence of Ishiro's alleged involvement.
Khoo then went ahead and published on Facebook what he found out about Ishiro's alleged involvement.
The Social Outcast found out via Mentai-ya
Aminurrashid said it was via Mentai-ya that he learned about how Ishiro was allegedly implicated.
His business, The Social Outcast, had operated side-by-side next to Ishiro in Bedok Marketplace previously.
Aminurrashid decided to close the stall at Bedok Marketplace in May 2020, which had nothing to do with the reviews, and reopened The Social Outcast as a restaurant at Turf Club on Sep. 14.
He had no prior inkling that Ishiro could have been involved.
He said he only learned about the reviews when his new restaurant opened.
Aminurrashid said he was also the target of racist comments, one of which appeared on a Facebook post of a video of The Social Outcast in December 2020.
The same person, Aminurrashid alleged, then posted bad reviews on The Social Outcast’s website and Facebook page.
What Ishiro did
Ishiro posted on Instagram on Sep. 8 explaining its actions, but the post has since been taken down.
Ishiro had written in that deleted post that the reviews were from one of its employees who had dined at Mentai-ya.
On Sep. 9, Ishiro posted an apology to “Mentai-ya and all businesses” on its Facebook page.Ishiro apologised for its initial statement and that it had not intended to defame competitors, while claiming again that the employee had acted on his or her own accord.
It also said it was sorry for the “harm these unfortunate events have caused”.
The statement said: "Ishiro assumes full responsibility for our actions and we apologise for the unfortunate sequence of events that have affected our fellow counterparts in the community.”
It added: "This is an important lesson learnt for Ishiro to make amends within the organization and ensure respect within the business community."
Khoo and Aminurrashid told Mothership on Sep. 21 that Ishiro's lawyers have asked for a 14-day extension for them to respond to the two letters of demand.
Both eateries said they intend to initiate court proceedings if Ishiro does not comply.
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Top photo via Ishiro