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LA Pop-Up Restaurant Operator Makes Violent Threats Against Online Reviewers

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One hot chicken stand owner is responding with a heavy hand

Raging Hot Chicken
Raging Hot Chicken, Los Angeles
YoAdrienne/Yelp

The owner of a Los Angeles hot chicken pop-up in the San Fernando Valley has admitted to threatening people for leaving negative Yelp reviews about his business. Gabe Killian, a stand-up comedian and co-owner of Raging Hot Chicken in North Hollywood, confirmed to Eater that he has threatened at least one customer with physical violence after being confronted with evidence of his behavior online. Killian sent multiple messages to the person, warning the customer that he is “gambling with his life” and that he “pissed off the wrong Armenians” following a poor review posted on Yelp.

That customer, who requested anonymity from Eater, sent detailed screenshots of Killian reaching out on Yelp, Facebook, and beyond, even contacting some of the customer’s friends to continue his threats. In one barrage sent from Yelp’s private-messaging feature earlier this month, Killian called the customer “a true loser,” a “piece of shit,” and an “idiot.”

Messages sent from Gabe Killian’s Yelp account

In the days that followed the initial volley of insults and threats, the comments from Killian continued to escalate in Facebook’s messenger app. There, the hot chicken stand owner attempted further intimidation by repeatedly saying that he was “the wrong person to be fucking with.”

While these screenshots are among the most alarming found in a file of more than a dozen that were passed to Eater, they are not isolated to just one user. In another instance that is still posted to the restaurant’s Yelp page, Killian appears to ask a dissatisfied customer: “Is it true that your mom is a ho?”

A Facebook account beloning to Gabe Killian, threatening another user.

An unrelated screenshot (shown below) from a third user highlights a series of private Yelp messages sent by Killian in a pre-dawn flurry on February 8, wherein he calls a woman a “loser” and “scum” for her review.

Eater talked with Killian about the screenshots. He admits that he has messaged multiple Yelp users regarding the reviews they have left, but is adamant in his belief that most, if not all, of the negative reviews for his hot chicken have come from “trolls,” or fake reviewers who did not actually eat at his restaurant.

Killian acknowledges that the original anonymous customer he repeatedly threatened to harm did indeed eat at the restaurant, but maintains that he is skeptical of the others. When asked why the owner of a business would realistically threaten and demean Yelp reviewers at all, even if their reviews were indeed fabricated, Killian stood by his actions.

“I’ve threatened many people on the internet who have never been to my restaurant,” he said, adding, “I see nothing wrong in telling someone I believe to be a troll to fuck off.”

Killian is firm that a slew of newly “suspicious” one-star Yelp reviews from customers is not only dragging down his star rating, but somehow also causing positive reviews to be shelved in the company’s “not currently recommended” pile. These are grayed-out reviews left by customers that do not count toward a restaurant’s public star rating. Yelp maintains that leaving these reviews out of its star rankings is part of the company’s proprietary algorithm designed to curate the most accurate depiction of a place, but it’s also considered by many in the restaurant industry to be an area for Yelp to exert influence over which information a customer does or does not see.

Other restaurants, like Tallula’s in Santa Monica, have had similar discussions regarding hidden reviews in the past, though Yelp maintains it is entirely up to the company’s automated review-filtration system, and that other users and employees have no control over the end results. Killian believes that there is some motive behind his grayed-out positive reviews, and that these “trolls” may indeed be behind it all. Yelp responded to Eater’s request for comment regarding this incident with the following statement:

Yelp takes an aggressive stance against any form of harassment on our platform because protecting consumers one of our top priorities. We have policies in place to reprimand any user or business owner who uses Yelp to threaten, stalk, harm, or harass others, which violates our Terms of Service and Messaging Guidelines. If a user thinks a business owner comment or direct message violates our guidelines, they can report it and our moderators will investigate the issue.

In the event that a user is receiving lewd or threatening messages from a business owner, we issue a warning to the business owner. If harassment continues, we will remove the ability for the business owner to use our messaging feature within the platform.

In direct messages sent to Eater over Twitter, Killian did offer some regret for his interactions online. “I’m an idiot for engaging in conversation with them and learned my lesson, but have nothing to hide,” he said. When asked for an official statement, Killian and his co-founder offered the following (presented in its unedited entirety below):

We have absolutely no problem with negative reviews. We welcome them, as long as they are from real customers. However, fake reviews from trolls, including one who said our chicken made him lose his passion for butt-sex, are NOT welcome. We made the rookie mistake of messaging trolls to insult them, but we’ve realized that it was completely unnecessary for us to stoop to that level. We are very new to the restaurant game and are learning as we go. Onward and upward.

As for the specific instances of threatening messages and promises of violence to the original anonymous Yelp reviewer? Killian has not changed his tone, at once showing remorse for his words and an equally strict defiance of any possible consequences. “The threat stands,” Killian tells Eater when asked about the postings in question. “If I ever see him, he’s getting knocked into unconsciousness.” Eater notified the reviewer, who is considering legal action.

Killian also sent along the following message to Eater directly, after learning of the forthcoming story regarding his threats: “Anybody who cares about me talking shit to a troll is a giant, politically correct, millennial pussy. That’s on the record as well.”

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