CHARLESTON COUNTY, SC (WCSC) - The City of Charleston's Livability and Tourism Department is investigating a tour company after Live 5 News received several complaints regarding its operation.
City spokesman Jack O'Toole said Thursday morning there is no evidence of a company called Sushikon having a tour or business license with the city.
Bonnie Swingle with the South Carolina Department of Revenue said the company at one point had gotten a retail license, but then informed the department they were "technically a service business."
"This would get in to how they bill their meals, if it was all inclusive, one ticket type of thing," she said.
The investigation comes after several complaints about the business not refunding money to its customers after promises of doing so.
According to its website, Sushikon is a roving sushi bus that lets you chow down on sushi while traveling to different breweries around Charleston.
It looks to provide guests with an incredible night on the town, but some say it's conning them out of their money.
"I believe it was an hour or two before they were supposed to show up when they called and said the bus had broken down and they wouldn't be coming," said Teal Chipley who hasn't gotten a refund from her trips. "That it would be hours before it could be fixed."
"They [said they] would refund us immediately," said Alexa Assey who also hasn't received her refund. "I wrote back and said I was disappointed, but not surprised, but please begin the refund process. No word since."
That was for a tour originally scheduled for the weekend of Halloween.
It would have been Chipley's fourth tour with the company and Assey's third.
Both women said their first time with Sushikon in 2016 was a great experience.
"It was a huge bus," Chipley said. "It had just been refitted, I think. It was great!"
"The food was wonderful, the breweries we went to were great, and we wanted to go again because it was such a fabulous experience," Assey said.
However, Assey and Chipley feel the service went downhill from there.
Another tour scheduled for Halloween weekend in 2016 was canceled because of bus issues but they were able to get the company to deliver sushi and beer to their home.
"It was sub-par sushi," Assey said. "I don't think it was prepared by them. I think it was grocery store platter. We weren't offered a discount on that, but we were offered a future discount."
Then Chipley said she went on the same tour with another group in June of this year yet ran into another issue.
"We were at a stop light and at that point had visited one brewery, one course of sushi, and we ran out of gas," she said.
At that point, members of the group suggested getting a 2/3 refund for the trip after having to find alternative transportation back home.
Chipley said that refund still hasn't come through.
"I started calling, leaving messages, tried Facebook," she said. "Countless emails for days and weeks…no response."
According to Sushikon's Facebook page, the bus shed next to the Charleston Visitor's Center is where they typically pick up their customers for the tours. While tickets aren't sold through the Visitor's Center, one worker said she has seen the bus pick up people in the bus shed.
"It took months just to get in touch through Facebook messages, phone calls and undeliverable emails," Assey said.
As of Thursday morning, booking online for a tour with Sushikon was not available for November and December.
Phone calls, emails, and Facebook messages to the company were not immediately returned.
Assey and Chipley aren't the only ones frustrated with Sushikon's operation.
Reviews on Yelp show many others displeased with their experience, and a lack of refunds.
"It's not cheap," Chipley said. "It's something that we planned, looked forward to. It's not just the cost for our family for Sushikon, but it's also the cost for a babysitter. There's multiple expenses and I would hate for anyone else to go through what we've gone through. Not only the loss of money, but the time. The time we've had to invest trying to get in contact with this company."
Chipley said the cost for a three-course tour could run someone between $80 and $100, depending on if you request a special pickup site.
"We just hope that they will either make it right or get out of here," Assey said.
The women added operations like this don't represent Charleston in the best light possible.
"We're the number one travel destination in the country," Assey said. "For people to come and have that as one of their experiences, it's not good."
According to Sushikon's Facebook page, it appears the company has created another venture called "Brews n Butts" which is considered a roving barbeque bus.
A post made by the page on Nov. 6 states in part, "Brews and Butts first tour was a smash hit. We're glad the bus finally is running tip top and looking good. It's been a bumpy road to the start, but hey it's schoolie!"
Based on the concept of serving food on a bus, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Environmental Control said employees are looking into whether the company falls under specific regulations within its agency.
A search on the Better Business Bureau website shows Sushikon is not accredited with the BBB, however one person left a review urging people to not book after a tour being canceled less than 24 hours before it happened. That reviewer also claims he was never refunded.
According to Sushikon's website, they also operate in Asheville and are hoping to open a venture in Denver.