Gray, a currently unemployed Phoenix resident, applied and heard back by text on Monday from a hiring manager named Hailey. She had a few screening questions for Gray before she would schedule an interview with the manager of the restaurant, she told him. She wanted to know where he lived, and what his availability was. But she also had an unusual request.
“As a server you need to be able to speak positively about Japanese food,” Hailey wrote. “Maybe you could write a general review of Japanese food. That will allow the manager to see if you like the food or not. Are you willing to do that?”
Gray said he’d be happy to. He sent over a few paragraphs about sushi and ramen and Japanese culinary traditions.
“Is that kind of in the ballpark of what you were looking for?” he asked.
Hailey responded with a link to a web page and a comment: “Write it there and let me know when you are done and I’ll forward it to the manager.”
Gray clicked the link, which took him to a Google review page for the recently opened Goodyear location of Yogi’s Grill, a regional chain of Japanese restaurants.
Scrolling through the Goodyear Yogi's recent reviews, he noticed that many of them were clearly from other job applicants who'd been asked to do the same writing exercise.
“Japanese food is great for people who love fish whether it’s raw like sashimi or fried,” said one review posted on Sunday.
“My favorite thing about Japanese cuisine is the freshness and limitless flavors,” read another from last week.
Gray responded to Hailey, telling her that he felt uncomfortable forging a review of a restaurant he'd never dined at. "How dare you prey on people in the middle of a world wide pandemic?" he added. "You should be ashamed."
Hailey did not return a message from Phoenix New Times. But a Yogi's representative who identified himself only as Frank emailed New Times on Tuesday to say that the company is investigating the issue. (A Frank Lee is listed as a director of Yogi's franchise operations, according to Arizona Corporation Commission filings.) He also said the problem was not limited to the Goodyear location of Yogi's.
"The location on Goodyear is a franchisee location who currently operates 3 other locations (Laveen, Downtown Phoenix on Washington St, and Baseline & 24th [Street])," he told New Times. "After reviewing the numerous emails we have received last night it seems that the same issue is happening at the locations that are owned by this franchisee. We are taking swift action to get this resolved and will follow up with each and every one of the applicants as well. Please accept our sincere apologies."
Katie Conner, a spokesperson for Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich's Office, said she couldn't confirm whether or not anyone had filed a consumer complaint about Yogi's with the AG's office, as all consumer complaints and investigations are confidential under Arizona law. She directed anyone who believes they've been a victim of consumer fraud to file a complaint with the AG, which you can do here.
The plan seems now to have backfired. A few days ago, the Goodyear location's Google reviews were mostly five-starred odes to Japanese culture. The last 24 hours are all one- or two-starred reviews.
"The management here tricks people into filling out fake job applications, and gets them to write a 'review on Japanese cuisine' as part of the scam," says a user named Paul H.
Below — an example of the reviews: