Chef Forges Career as One-Star Chef to Expose Billion-Dollar Company

By Ilene Eng

RICHMOND—How credible is a rating on Yelp? One Bay Area chef decides to troll the review forum after feeling harassed with the threat of extortion.

Twenty-five years ago Davide Cerretini moved from Italy to the Bay Area, bringing with him a slice of Italy through the restaurant business. He opened Botto Bistro in Richmond, serving authentic Italian pizza and pasta.

Davide Cerretini said his campaign to troll Yelp has been going on for five years and his story plays a major role in the latest documentary, Billion Dollar Bully. August 7, 2019. (Ilene Eng/NTD)
Botto Bistro has been open for ten years and, according to Davide Cerretini, business is doing just fine. August 7, 2019. (Ilene Eng/NTD)

“Everything, the surrounding, it’s very simple, it’s very authentic. It’s like when you go [to] Italy in a small, little restaurant out of town, without [a] big sign, without anything,” said Cerretini. “You sit down and…the food is good, and the environment is very friendly. Unless you are from Yelp, then we are not going to be friendly.”

All went well until Cerretini noticed Yelp manipulating his restaurant’s reviews, pushing him to buy advertising.

“This is how it works,” he said. “You open your business, and it doesn’t matter if you decide to subscribe to Yelp or not. They’re going to take your name, in a matter of weeks, and they are going to put it in their forum. Then suddenly after a couple of weeks, they’re going to call you, harassing you. Calling is different, harassing is another thing…so phone call, after phone call, after phone call.”

Tired of all the phone calls, he asked to be removed from their list.

“After a couple of weeks, you start to see your ratings going down. The best reviews are going away, some of the bad ones are coming out,” said Cerretini.

That’s when he started a campaign to troll Yelp by asking his customers to give his restaurant one-star reviews to prove that he would still be in business anyway.

He thought by doing this Yelp would allow the restaurant to opt out of their listing. But, Yelp didn’t let that happen.

He said even Yelpers didn’t know they were playing a part in the company’s extortion.

“They come in the restaurant with their app and they threaten the manager of their own with a bad review so they can get special treatment,” said Cerretini.

For five years, he has tried to expose the company so more people are aware.

“The general public came here, flooded in my restaurant, putting money in my cashier saying, we are with you,” said Cerretini.

His story is now in a documentary called Billion Dollar Bully, released May 21, 2019.

“It’s an eye-opening project for people that were not aware. People that were not aware that you’re a hostage, you can’t opt out. People that were not aware that these people are calling you every day. People that were not aware that your [rating] is changing,” he said.

When asked, if Yelp could change, what should they do first? He said, “Give the opportunity to every small business owner in America to decide if they want to be part of their community. And everything will change.”

Now the general public knows, and it’s up to them to decide what to do.