With ‘the most daily deals’ in Seattle, Groupon cuts off Hill’s Thomas Street Bistro

(Image: Thomas Street Bistro via Facebook)

About two years ago, Adam Freeman of Thomas Street Bistro decided to sell out. Frustrated by the ongoing challenge of bringing new customers into his tiny Capitol Hill restaurant, he turned to daily deals to drum up new business. “I was the first to be on Groupon when they started in Seattle,” Freeman tells CHS. What has followed has been an absolute cavalcade of discount offers in nearly every shape and form for the restaurant at Summit Ave and Thomas.

“We have the most daily deals in the city,” Freeman said. “You start with Groupon. And then LIving Social came. ‘Why don’t you run?’ And then Tippr.” They just follow each other.” In all, CHS counted ten different Thomas Street deals in the last 18 months — some selling more than 1,000 of the coupons. Freeman says there were even more deals than that. But, now, something has gone wrong. The biggest daily deal dealer of them all has suddenly pulled the plug on Freeman’s bistro.


“Without your call, we wouldn’t have known,” Freeman said of a brief conversation on Monday about this customer service email passed along to CHS by reader  – and Thomas Street Groupon holder — Daniel:

—————————- Original Message —————————-
Subject: An Important Message Regarding Your Groupon for Thomas Street Bistro
From:    “Groupon”
Date:    Mon, February 20, 2012 4:18 pm
————————————————————————–

Thanks for purchasing the Groupon for Thomas Street Bistro.

Due to unforeseen circumstances, we have had to cancel this deal. Werealize how frustrating that can be and we want to make it right as soonas possible. Our apologies for the inconvenience.

If you haven’t used your Groupon, you are eligible for a refund. Toclaim your refund, sign into your Groupon account atwww.groupon.com/mygroupons. From here, click “Claim Refund” and select arefund either to the form of payment originally used for the purchase orto your Groupon account to be used for future purchases.

If you purchased this Groupon as a gift or are having trouble claimingyour refund, please contact us at www.groupon.com/support and we’ll beglad to assist you.

We appreciate your understanding and sincerely apologize for anyinconvenience this may have caused.

Sincerely,

Groupon Customer Support 

Our call may have been the first. But Freeman said hundreds have followed from Groupon holders who want to know what is happening with his restaurant. “80% of our customers use their Groupons in the last two weeks [before expiration],” Freeman said. “We are going to honor them.” The decision, by the way, is made easier by the fact that Freeman says he has already been paid by Groupon and won’t have to give a penny back.

The restaurant owner said he has no idea why Groupon is refunding his business’s deals. He says he has no plans to close the bistro and that Groupon has not contacted him about the situation or any complaints about the service he offers at the restaurant.

We have an inquiry out to Groupon about the Thomas Street situation but have not yet heard back. This would also be a good time to mention that Thomas Street Bistro has also advertised on CHS in the past. UPDATE: A Groupon spokesperson tells CHS that the deal was removed because of customer complaints about service and quality at Thomas Street. She also said the company has made numerous efforts to contact the business about the situation including working with Freeman to improve the experience at the bistro but Groupon’s calls and messages were not returned. Here is a statement on the situation from Groupon:

Groupon contacted the merchant several times without response when it became apparent that Thomas Street Bistro wasn’t providing the level of service that we expect for our customers. With customer complaints rising we had no choice but to pull the deal and proactively contact purchasers for a refund if they haven’t redeemed.

Freeman readily admits his restaurant has been almost absurdly active with coupon and discount offers. “It hasn’t been the best time for Capitol Hill businesses,” Freeman said. “I’m very hidden there [on Summit Ave]. It gives awareness. And it’s kind of a reward to my regulars.”

One complicating factor could be Freeman’s involvement in the daily deal space that goes well beyond his restaurant business. In spring 2011, he partnered on the launch of a venture called Pricemobster:

Pricemobster is the brainchild of Seattle restaurateur Adam Freeman, owner of Thomas Street Bistro. After using a number of the online group-buying coupons to promote his restaurant, he became concerned about the high payout to the coupon companies and the low return for the merchants. In fact, he realized that while the business owners received a large influx of cash all at once, many were actually losing money and not gaining either customer loyalty or appreciation.

Pricemobster displays deal promotions for several local businesses including a few on Capitol Hill but none of the offers are currently available for purchase. One offer, by the way, touts a deal dated February 2nd for a coming soon “Thomas Street Crepery”:

Even with his involvement in Pricemobster, Freeman said the days of daily deals are done when it comes to Thomas Street.

Built up by expectations set by snappy advertising copy that disguises bread and butter as a course and dropped into a restaurant space and experience that can only be described as “quirky,” reviewers on sites like Yelp for Thomas Street are increasingly brutal. “There is some positive that came out of it,” Freeman said. “There are also a lot of negatives.”

“I think we achieved what we wanted,” Freeman said. “We achieved enough return business from those daily deals. We think what is best now is to go back to being a small neighborhood business.”

Whatever its reasons, Groupon appears to have helped Thomas Street move forward on its new goal.

39 thoughts on “With ‘the most daily deals’ in Seattle, Groupon cuts off Hill’s Thomas Street Bistro

  1. Too late now, but I should have tried contacting the restaurant before accepting the refund from Groupon. Had I known Freeman planned to honor the deal, I would have taken that option to try the place out.

    So if you get a similar notice from Groupon it’s worth investigating.

    Thanks for following up on the story, J.

  2. …worth adding that when I checked the Groupon site, the deal very explicitly stated that Thomas St. Bistro had closed (though the initial email was much less specific).

    Wonder how many folks take that statement at face value. It seems calculated to damage the business.

  3. Consider yourself lucky and take your refund. The place blows.

    THe problem is, he’s “dumbed down” the entire menu to equalize for all the deals he’s sold. When I used my Groupon, I went with a friend who had gone once before. He warned me that his experience wasn’t good so my expectations were pretty low. I wasn’t surprised. They had almost nothing available that their online menu listed, and what they did have was cheap fodder and filler. It wasn’t disgusting but it certainly wasn’t worth ANYTHING NEAR the value they said it was. It was worth about exactly what you paid for it, no more.

    It’s good Groupon cut them off. They need to wean themselves of the Groupon scam (it’s a great deal for Groupon, not so much for the business). If they can start pricing their food fairly for what you actually get, they might have a chance. That was never going to happen while relying on all these daily deals. Nobody with any sense ever went back.

  4. Based on the kitchen, I will never eat there again. Then in talking to someone who used to work there, they don’t even follow proper sanitizing procedure. Dirty work space, reheated food, I don’t think Chef Ramsey could help Chef Adam. He has some pretty good soup recipes, I will give him that. Maybe he should turn it into a soup kitchen or maybe get a soup truck in town. Either way, he needs to brush up on sanitation and how to properly run a kitchen. It is very obvious to me that he has never been inspected. At least not in the past two years. His standards when I first tried him out 3 years ago seemed much higher.

  5. I have really mixed feelings about this place. I’d gone a few years ago for Valentines and it was a really nice, special night. Great food, ambiance, etc. But I guess all that’s changed.

    Their website says closed Tuesdays, and no reservations. So walked in a week before Valentines to see if they’d be open. An older gentleman, I assumed the owner or manager, said yes, and said they’d take my reservation.

    Day of, I show up, and the “doorman” says they don’t do reservations and didn’t know what I was talking about. We ended up waiting out in the cold and rain for a while before they let us in.

    I think we ended up being waited on by 6 different people. I tried getting my drink order taken by one, but he refused to take it, 10 minutes later someone else asks, but then only brings one red wine instead of two. It was another 10 minutes before the next shows up. Same with our main course. Mine came out 10 minutes before my dates. I wasn’t going to start before her so mine ended up cold before hers came out.

    After an ice cream desert was served and bussed, we waited 15-20 minutes for the check which never showed, so I finally waved down the owner who asked if we’d gotten desert. I said yes, but apparently there was cake on the way too.

    Anyway, the service was crap, they seemed super concerned about if I had a coupon (I didn’t), the guitar player passed around a tip-jar, said he’d be back in 15 and never showed up again while I was there. They tried to make up for the delays with free glasses of champagne, but it didn’t really make up for the hassle.

    I liked the place when it actually charged $50-$60 for a 5 course meal. This was $45 for two people, and I won’t go back.

    Also: there was some jerk sitting next to us, dining on a coupon, asking endless and impossible questions about the menu. I couldn’t believe how much he was hassling the waiter, then the owner about the meals when he wasn’t even paying full price for it…

  6. I was there two years ago (without a coupon) and it was actually a great experience. Food was tasty, service was good, and when we asked to take our leftovers they wrapped them up and put them on an actual porcelain plate! Went about a year ago and the experience was the same. No complaints. And the owner was a very very nice guy.

    Have things really changed that much in the last year or so?

  7. Maybe once they’re weaned from the scourge of Groupon, they’ll be better. Considering Groupon takes half the $$, and a deal is typically 50% off, I just don’t see how anyone can sell you decent food at 25% of what it would normally cost. If they can survive going cold turkey off all their deal coupons, they might have a shot at it.

  8. This place is rubbish. Much of their food comes straight from the Costco bakery and frozen food section. If you want to sell cheap food, then charge cheap food prices. I love Costco for what it is, but I don’t want to see the exact same food sitting on my plate at a restaurant.

  9. A reward for your regulars? Like the Costco tiramisu store-bought jar sauce were not enough of a reward?

    This was the worst dining experience I ever had. To top it all off, they tacked on about $15 onto my freinds debit card. She was too sick of the place to pursue it at all.

  10. People only hate on you when you are doing something well. Personally for me, haters add petrol to my hustle and make me succeed even quicker in what I do.
    Do not be upset when someone tries to put you down, be content knowing they do this becasue they already know you are above them. Take the satisfaction they already know they can NEVER be where you are or do what you do.
    So… for everyone who has been hated on make sure to keep your head up and succeed in flying colors, do not allow ANYONE to spoil your day or your dreams. Keep doing what you do!
    Intelligence follows knowledge and ignorance follows ignorant, so love your haters foolishness and cretinous faults as I do, it makes your success just that bit sweeter when you reach your goals.

  11. …or maybe learn to take constructive criticism? I would say these are pretty legitimate claims. I also had a terrible experience at Thomas Street Bistro. Not only was the the food awful but to add to the experience our waiter stood next to our table and watched us the entire time. Awkward doesn’t even begin to describe it.

  12. Good luck Adam. Try again. I think a lot of people would like to see you succeed with something in that space, but what people are telling you was their experiences with what you were doing so far was not working. Something can. Just don’t do it with coupons.

  13. I have come here at least four times over the last 5 years it’s been open, and have only been treated with the utmost respect. I am going to side with Adam on this one. Do any of you people leaving all these negative comments have anything better to do with your time? Seriously.
    If you don’t want to use your coupon, get your refund. End of story.
    I grew up in Boston, and people don’t do all this passive aggressive stuff like they do here
    in the west coast.
    why put all that negative energy out there? If your unhappy, then get your money back, do
    you really need to take it out on this small business?
    @ Adam, keep doing what your doing, and I wish you luck for anything in the future.

  14. Sorry, I didn’t use a coupon and I live in the area and I see how he treats the customers. The guy is a snob. If you were treated well, congratulations, you stood up to his standard (whatever that is) of someone worthy of being treated kind. His above post clearly illustrates his attitude. See Haters are LOSERS…”Do not be upset when someone tries to put you down, be content knowing they do this becasue they already know you are above them. Take the satisfaction they already know they can NEVER be where you are or do what you do.” Sorry buddy, but I too can serve up a Costco cake, 20 cents worth of it and call it a course. I can also reheat things that were prepared days before. I however choose to cook my own food the day I want to eat it. Even at the groupon price, Thomas Street Bistro is no longer a good value. If they want to return to the way they did things in the beginning, before they got burned out on the groupon deals, they may stand a chance. Unfortunately from Adam’s responses on this thread, I feel he is clueless to constructive criticism and may go on the way he has it. Just look at their reviews on the different websites. The complaints are all similar, therefor you have a real problem. Hey Adam, want to get that, it’s your clue phone and it’s ringing.

  15. We were really looking forward to using our groupon at this neighborhood place last year, but the high expectations went straight out the window when we arrived. There was only one table seated at about 5:30 when we arrived, but because we had a groupon we were told we had to have a reservation, to which I asked if I needed to then call in from their front door to make a reservation for the empty place. After the host thought about it, we were finally seated. They were (somehow) out of the most of the items on the menu and I had the most terrible dinner/experience. Haven’t gone back and wouldn’t recommend to anyone. Rude and shitty. P.S. to all restaurants out there – If you are going to sign your restaurants up for groupon, tippr, living social or other deals, then don’t be a jackass to the customers that purchase the coupon and actually want to try your place. Doesn’t make any sense.

  16. Funny that someone commented below on the soup. That was the redeeming feature of our “four-course dinner” – it WAS good soup, but when your veggie soup is orders of magnitude better than anything else then you’ve got some quality problems.

    We tried phoning multiple times over several days for a reservation but nobody ever answered the phone. The prix fixe menu bore little resemblance to that shown on the website, and not even all of the few options on offer were actually available. Food was amateur at best – artlessly executed and using cheap supermarket-quality ingredients. Not terrible value for the price we actually paid, but delusional to promote it as a higher-value offering. Service was RIDICULOUS considering everyone was eating the same thing. Staff couldn’t seem to keep track of which courses anyone had been served and which were still to come, and multiple requests for a second glass of wine (extra revenue opp – hello!) went unfulfilled. In the end people next to us donated their unfinished bottle as they were leaving.

    Pity – it’s a cute, quirky and potentially gemlike location, and a true French-style neighborhood bistro would be lovely. Just needs to offer reasonable food at a reasonable price and stop trying to dress mutton up as lamb. Literally and figuratively.

  17. Your guys comments completely sum up what we east coast people think of you pansies.
    You sit behind your computers with your vivace lattes, rip on small restaurant’s on yelp, and
    you have the nerve to call this guy a jackass?
    Serious pansies.
    @CF, what do you do for a living?
    do you have any idea how hard it is to run a restaurant, especially in the last four years?
    Prob not- and you prob have no clue about business, or economics or anything in the REAL world.
    Your just like those jackasses that sit around and leave negative comments on youtube videos.
    Some of you guys are obviously lacking something in your lives that you have to sit around on your neighborhood blog, and rip on small restaurants where people are just trying to make a living.
    and ps: stop the bullshit about constructive criticism, saying a restaurant should die, and calling someone a jackass is not constructive you passive little joke.

  18. in front of thomas street bistro.

    I like how you took my lampoon of east coast tough guys opinions and said them in earnest.

    Also, as a customer its not my job to do a better job at running a place I eat at. and if the purpose of a neighborhood blog is not to talk about stuff in the neighborhood, then what the hell is it for? Do you even live on capitol hill? Why are you even commenting?

  19. I happen to be a neighbor and have eaten at the bistro a couple times. My very first experience was AMAZING and there were plenty of follow up positive experiences. I can also pinpoint many ways of improvement for greater success in the space. If I had the space I would find a young forward thinking chef and let him come in with some fresh ideas. I would keep the menu local and organic… Simple… What it needs is an injection of passion in the food.I am a decent cook and a foodie. Space and location is perfect… If the food is good then people will come….period. There will be no need for discounts. Adam I am all for the success of your bistro and wish you the best of luck. Also an additional word of advice… I have experienced many restaurants in hidden places that don’t even bother putting their names on the door. All your neighbors know what you do and where you are… Focus on the food… I guarantee the people will come.

    All The Best,

    Alan Motley

  20. I’ve been a casual at the bistro for almost four years now & Adam does not say such things as “haters add petrol to my hustle” This is some idiot pretending to be someone he is not.

    Furthermore there is more to this story than meets the eye. I remember when I first peeked my head into the bistro back when it was a one man army. People loved it but Adam’s body did not. So he ended up having to hire more some help.Costs got higher and poof! Groupon appears out of thin air with “free” advertising and the means to “promote products in the 21st century”. Yes Adam must take some of the blame because before he knew it his business was transformed from sweet and cozy to overflowing insanity.

    I’ve used Groupon once for me and my girlfriend. It was a Christmas cruise on Lake Washington & every single person that night had Groupon. They apparently sold more vouchers than tables which caused: random couple pairings, overwhelmed servers and slow service. Now take that situation and apply to the bistro and what you get is one huge mess. I only enjoy the place early weekdays anymore. When me and some friends can drop by and have a meal without all the craziness. Because the entire business model changed for traffic… TSBistro was the first to join Groupon, first to get kicked off but not the last. Groupon will be in a world of trouble before you know it.

    I’m also curious if this had anything to do with Pricemobster? I know Adams been working on it for sometime and said Groupon was aware that he was doing so. Adam’s told me it’s a business friendly version of the daily deal phenomenon and seems quite confident that once able to launch, business’s will be thrilled for the changes. We will see.

  21. I’m pretty sure it’s him since the comments he left with his picture besides them on the facebook post appeared within minutes to the comments posted in here. It is his true personality. Which doesn’t matter, what does matter is how he treats his customers and many of whom feel they were treated poorly while at his establishment. I guess from looking at his East Coast friend’s post on here, I should have just punched him in the nose when I felt overlooked. I mean that’s how real people handle it right?

  22. If by succeed, you mean ripping off everyone who comes in to your restaurant maybe. How about try offering food for the value that you provide? You are just entirely dishonorable. The wine that you offered me that was valued at $30, I found in Trader Joe’s immediately afterwards for no more than 3. That cheesecake you served us for dessert? Identical to the one sold in the refrigerated desserts sections at Safeway. Have some class and admit your folly instead of just being an arrogant jerk.

  23. When I went to TSB, I used a restaurants.com certificate. Short version of the story is this: we went on a weeknight, it wasn’t busy, we had to ask repeatedly for our wine, the food was bland & lukewarm, and we CLEARLY got different (and less) food than the people at the table near us — who didn’t have a coupon. There was something else negative about the experience, but I don’t recall now. Bottom line is this: I was excited to try this place, but would never go back. Mediocre food, lousy service, and a weird vibe from the owner.