Live 5 Investigates: Sushikon complaints about lack of refunds
CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Seven weeks after a Charleston tour company posted to social media stating they would refund its customer's money after canceled tours, those customers say it has yet to happen.
More than 20 people have posted complaints on social media and on the Better Business Bureau website about Sushikon.
The business is a roving sushi bus which travels to different breweries while serving customers the popular cuisine.
In November several people contacted Live 5 News stating their scheduled Halloween tour had been canceled two-hours before pickup time, and that they weren't refunded.
On Nov. 21, a post was made to the Sushikon Facebook page stating in part that anyone who has not received a refund for a canceled tour should contact them and they will get it within 30 days.
Reviews on websites like Yelp show the concern several customers have had with Sushikon and its owners.
"It's not that big of a challenge to do the right thing," said Bert Ogburn.
Ogburn is one of dozens of people who have had their trips canceled at late notice, and have yet to receive a refund.
He and others said the owner, Hewitt Emerson, is running an unprofessional business.
"When Hewitt and I were in a partnership it was running pretty well," said Jeff Cassens, Emerson's former investor and business partner with Octobachi Mobile Foods, LLC. "Since then, it has not gone so well."
According to Sushikon's promotional video and Facebook page, customers who book a tour will ride on a "beautiful Vintage MCI".
However, that bus is in a storage lot in North Charleston where it's been for more than a year after the company dissolved, according to Cassens.
"As the investor, I wanted to make sure that the business was with insurance, and licensing and all that stuff," Cassens said. "So that was my job. Overtime, I found out Hewitt was doing some things I wasn't comfortable with."
Cassens and Emerson partnered to form the company Octobachi Mobile Foods, LLC, which Cassens filed with the Secretary of State's office in October of 2015.
After a soft opening that fall, Cassens said they hit the ground running in the MCI vintage bus they remodeled.
"I had a great experience the first time with Sushikon, and recommended it highly," Ogburn said.
"We were getting anywhere from 17 to 24 [people] on your average tour," Cassens said. "They were a lot of fun, because a lot of the times there would be groups of three or four people who didn't know each other, but by the time the evening was over they were all friends."
But right around the time of Hurricane Matthew in 2016, Cassens said things started to concern him.
"We needed to kind of tighten up some of the business processes," he added. "We couldn't have him driving anymore. I needed to take over the payroll because it wasn't running as smoothly as it could, and then we could continue. Hewitt basically disagreed with all of that and rather than do all of those things, he would rather break the business up."
Cassens took the bus, while Emerson kept the name and idea of the business, opting to continue with different transportation methods as can be seen in a Sushikon Instagram post.
Over the last nine weeks Live 5 News has tried to contact Emerson regarding the lack of refunds for canceled tours. Those messages were sent via phone and emails which have now bounced back as unable to deliver.
Live 5 News went as far as Boone, North Carolina to try and track Emerson down.
Emerson was scheduled for a mandatory court appearance on November 21 for an unrelated charge. The clerk of court said his attorney filed a continuance for this hearing, therefore neither of them had to appear in person that day.
Throughout this investigation, Live 5 News discovered an address in Hickory, North Carolina connected to Emerson's name. That address also listed his business partner, Alexandra Lewis.
When Live 5 News arrived at the address a woman who said she was Emerson's family member said she was unable to help locate him or Lewis.
"I couldn't tell you where they went to," she said. "I'm not protecting him. He's a good boy."
Roughly one hour after the confrontation with the family member, the following post appeared on the Sushikon Facebook page:
"Hello to all Sushikon folks! If you have booked a tour and not received the service please contact us for a refund. We are working to make sure that all
Parties canceled have received their refunds within our 30 day business refund policy. If you have not received a refund please private message us with your booking details so we can process your refund. If it is within the 30 business days please give us the full 30 days to process your refund before you contact us. If you had a great tour please drop us a line and let us know. Thanks for your understanding. If you have any issues reaching us via message, email email@example.com"
"It's very possible that they've seen you're doing this story and they're trying scramble in an effort to catch up," Cassens said.
Ogburn and others in the group tried to reach out to Sushikon following the post on Facebook, but were faced an unable to send message, which they believe is because they were blocked on social media.
"It's not a coincidence," Ogburn said. "They obviously know that they've done this. They know they owe people money and they're just choosing not to do the right thing."
"If you want to continue in business, the best way to do that is to have satisfied customers," Cassens said. "If you are refusing to talk to those customers, I would think it would be difficult to get new ones."
Not only does Cassens believe what his former business partner is doing is unethical, but he is also concerned about the advertising; false advertising as he calls it.
"I've asked him several times to take down that advertising because I know several people have been disappointed when they book a tour and expect to see this big beautiful bus roll up," he said. "And he either comes with that smaller bus he has or he doesn't show up at all."
While Ogburn and many of the others have filed claims with their credit card companies since the canceled tour, they are curious where the thousands of dollars went."
Or they've got another operation going on and they're using this money here to try and fund that," Ogburn said. "I'm not really sure."
Further investigation discovered a business in Asheville, North Carolina called Brews N' Butts.
According to the Buncombe County Environmental Health Department, there are no permits on file for the business.
A spokesperson said there have been "several unsuccessful attempts made to contact the owner of Brews n' Butts".
Live 5 News also did a check on brewsnbutts.com and found it's registered to Hewitt Emerson Inc, the same company listed on Emerson's LinkedIn account.
The business's website also appears to look the same to that of the Sushikon website.
Messages to Brews n' Butts were not immediately returned.
Since the original story, parts of the Sushikon website have shutdown, and several people have reported their experiences to the Better Business Bureau over the lack of refunds.
Copyright 2018 WCSC. All rights reserved.