TLDR: I found who's impersonating Kin Khao on GrubHub. An extremely shady company (under at least 4 different names) built out ghost kitchens in parking lots, one “restaurant” had a similar name to Kin Khao, and GrubHub's algorithms messed up. Also, Softbank valued those kitchens apparently over a billion dollars.
I tweeted a while back about a Thai restaurant which was running a "ghost" "Chinese" restaurant out of the same kitchen, just somewhat repackaging the product.
So it's really no surprise to see a story where the (pretty good) Thai restaurant Kin Khao has an impersonator using their name on Grubhub. Grubhub and Yelp have very quickly taken down the links, but it's still interesting to do some internet archeology.
Here's a screenshot from the cached version.
This is a pretty bog-standard American-Thai menu, which is not really what you go to Kin Khao for - there's not even a Pad Thai on their actual menu. Even though the menu is standard, the exact phrasing of the dish descriptions is not.
Taking the description of the Pineapple Fried Rice (which is a terrible dish to do delivery with), the first result, for “Happy Khao Thai,” shows a pretty much word-for-word match with "Happy Khao Thai".
Looking at that menu, it's pretty much a perfect match to the Grubhub one, down to the sole side of Jasmine rice, and the pho which looks like a crime in and of itself.
From the SF Chronicle coverage, GrubHub says,
“Kin Khao was one of these restaurants we added to our marketplace for this initiative to include more restaurants on our platform, and unfortunately, we referenced the incorrect menu for this restaurant. As soon as they reached out to us expressing they’d like to be removed and flagged the incorrect menu, we honored the request. They are no longer on our marketplace.”
It looks like an honest mistake that there was a Happy Khao Thai in SF, and GrubHub misidentified them as Kin Khao Thai. Okay, I get it, machine learning is hard (good for my job security).
If you want to preserve your sanity, this is where you stop reading.
Down the rabbithole
Now let's dig into this establishment more. It claims to be at 768 Sansome St, which is home to a parking lot. My initial generous interpretation, is that they're a food truck which parks at that location, and Google Street View does suggest that there is a taco truck there. Additionally, a wings place, with terrible reviews, shares the address on Grubhub.
They also have multiple other locations, all of which appear to be parking lots:
Going back to that pho (which irritates me more and more as I look at it), I reverse-image-searched it on Google and found *another* Happy Khao Thai. This one is in Portland though ... with the same menu? Are there others? I found the same restaurant, with the same menu, in Miami, Austin, and 2351 Mission St in SF.
Huh, 2351 Mission St looks familiar. That's one of the addresses which Wings and Things was using - and it's again, a parking garage. Again, is that a coincidence? Maybe - but both Wings and Things and Happy Khao share the same contact number. In fact, no less than 4 different restaurants share that phone number and the 2351 Mission St address.
Finally, one of the restaurants has a real website, "Cantina La Pampa," which is owned by "Bamia2, LLC," according to their TOS. Finally, a real (ish) name to go off, and it maps back to this Florida-registered company.
Who dun it?
The Bamia2 in the privacy notes is the key to breaking this all open.
That corporation appears to have opened branches in many states in June 2019, including all the states with restaurants here: California, Oregon, New York, Texas, and Florida. All of the offices, of course, are registered to either a Regus space coworking space or a Dutch legal services provider.
Ah. Nice site (courtesy of an expensive LA brand agency outsourced to Romania). It's a ghost kitchen play, but they're using their own house brands instead of enabling other restaurateurs to use their space. And interestingly enough, they've raised money from SoftBank - at a BILLION dollar valuation! Supposedly hundreds of millions raised too, but sources are inconsistent (as is everything else about this company!).
Of course Softbank is behind this. And the parking angle finally makes sense - those parking lots are probably owned/operated by one of their affiliates. So, I guess it is a "registered business" but everything about it is so shady — including the Softbank investment. They use so many different names that it's even hard for me to keep track. In their job descriptions, they're using both the "Reef Kitchens" and "Vessel" brands.
I also think it's hilarious that they had a posting for a data scientist role, which is funny in and of itself, as well as how they claim to be "part of Softbank" in that posting. Imagine having, like, 20 food trucks and thinking you need a PhD to build you some advanced AI. Oh also this vision/facial recognition engineer position.
In some way, these mishaps are just minor tales which will be quickly forgotten. I don't really think anybody here truly has bad intentions. GrubHub's algorithms are not perfect and mismatched Happy Khao to Kin Khao. It's inevitable that the low end of the food market will be "disrupted" by even lower cost food delivery options. Ethnic foods being chopped, screwed, and bastardized for the undiscerning American consumer has been the case since at least the invention of Chop Suey. Softbank throwing good money after "startups" which create food that looks inedible and will shutdown in a year or two is also nothing new.
I walk away from all of this investigation feeling deeply unsatisfied, as if I had just drank a bowl of lukewarm, unspiced broth. I'm serious - that bowl of pho is so criminal that I cannot fathom the lack of respect for food that created it. It's all a race to the bottom, in terms of price, quality, and worker treatment.
I am sure that somebody will figure out a way to serve a sufficient simulation of "Thai" or whatever other ethnic cuisine they think will sell well in delivery. And I think it's fine that low-end delivery places are cheap and the food isn't great. But it doesn't make me happy.
The owner of Kin Khao, Pim Techamuanvivit, has a very nice quote:
“The [delivered] food is not the way that I want the food served,” she said. “I just prefer that somebody come in and sit down and have a proper meal.”
Me too, Pim. Me too.