A call to Sacramento's downtown Hyatt Regency last week confirmed Susan Bartorona and Sarah Dyer's suspicion: the sushi festival they purchased tickets for back in February wasn't going to happen. Now the Auburn residents are worried they won't get their money back.
Bartorona and Dyer paid $35 for VIP tickets to the Sacramento Sushi Fest organized by a company called Fanoomies Entertainment. They emailed their respective credit unions after realizing the event wasn't being held at the Hyatt, but don't expect to get their money back since most financial institutions require fraud to be reported within 30 to 60 days.
"I filled out that this was fraud, but what can anybody do at this point? Basically, they've run off with our money," Bartorona said.
The friends bought their tickets back in February for Fanoomies' sushi fest, a collection of Japanese food, drinks and culinary demonstrations originally slated for May 12-13.
Two days before the smell of raw fish was to hit Fifth Street, the event's original site, the smorgasbord was postponed to July 7-8 and moved to the Hyatt, according to a now-defunct Facebook event page that drew more than 8,000 "interested" users.
In reality, downtown Hyatt director of events Kendall Erlenbusch said, Fanoomies representatives had spoken to a hotel manager but never followed through on booking any space. Hyatt staffers asked Fanoomies to remove the hotel from its event description in late May after an article about the sushi fest ran in The Bee, Erlenbusch said, a request the company ignored.
More than 250 people bought tickets ranging from $20 to $300 through online retailer Shopify and received confirmation notices from a site called Brown Paper Tickets. Brown Paper Tickets got suspicious enough of Fanoomies to delete the event page from its site and emailed all buyers to tell them to contact their banks, COO and general counsel Mike Sennott said.
Dyer didn't get an initial confirmation from Brown Paper Tickets or the follow-up message, she said. After not receiving her ticket, she emailed back and forth with a Fanoomies representative with the username "Amy Gibb," who assured her the event was still on and that she had a spot reserved.
Dyer began looking deeper into the sushi fest in late June when in-the-know foodie friends in Auburn told her they hadn't heard of it. By the time she reached out to Golden 1 Credit Union last week, it was too late to get her money back.
"I tend to be a very trusting individual, unfortunately, and I honestly didn’t think anything was suspicious right off the bat," Dyer said. "They were very active on the Facebook page, hyping everybody up ... to find out it was all a scam is unfortunate."
Fanoomies also sold tickets for food-based block parties in Chicago, Los Angeles and San Diego. The Chicago Tribune questioned the legitimacy of a June 9 taco festival that promised chihuahua racing and free parking in the city's crowded downtown. Shopify stopped selling tickets to the festival after the Tribune story.
Fanoomies' website, created through the free-to-start Wix web development platform, advertised the Chicago festival but no others before being taken down. The mailing address listed on the site — 12528 Arliene Drive in the Southern California town of Hawaiian Gardens — did not exist, and the email address previously used to communicate with customers has been deactivated.
A search on Network Solutions' domain browser showed Fanoomies' site was created by Santa Rosa resident Mari Solis, with a phone number listed that went to a Wix office. Other numbers listed under Solis' name were expired or went to nondescript mailboxes. Sacramento Magazine's event calendar listed the festival as being put on by "Mari Solois," a name that doesn't appear to match anyone in California.
Missing out on the festival didn't just affect Dyer and Bartorona's pocketbooks. Their sense of trust in online shopping is shot, they said.
"How are people supposed to trust any event when they've bought a ticket online?" Bartorona said. "Whoever did this, something is going to be coming after them eventually."
The Bee's Benjy Egel is launching a new effort to cover Sacramento's dining and beer scene. Please send tips and story ideas by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @BenjyEgel or by phone at (916) 321-1052.