LOGAN SQUARE — A new Logan Square restaurant is struggling to stay afloat after a mysterious scammer attack.
Ocaso opened in Masa Azul former’s spot at 2901 W. Diversey Ave. in September, serving up classic Mexican cuisine. But a couple months in, something was off: Reservations — some from people who claimed to have never made them — kept getting canceled. Confused customers would call and cite the wrong hours of operation taken directly from the restaurant’s website. At one point, a fake Facebook page popped up, confusing customers even further.
Eventually, the restaurant’s co-owner, Areerat Potikul, realized all of the issues could be related. Potikul had given personal information to someone claiming to work for Microsoft a few weeks earlier. A computer technician confirmed her laptop had malware and recommended she change all of her passwords.
Neither the restaurant’s website company nor Tock, its reservation system, confirmed Ocaso’s accounts had been compromised. But Potikul said all signs point to a phishing scam that snowballed. Eater was first to report on the issue.
Potikul, a longtime manager at Penny’s Noodle Shop in Lakeview, opened Ocaso with fiancé Desiderio Benitez and their friend, Carlos Gonzalez, formerly of La Luna in Pilsen. The three met while working at Giordano’s locations throughout Chicago.
It’s the first restaurant for the trio. Potikul told Block Club in August they were encouraged to open the restaurant by Penny’s owners and longtime acquaintances Gus and Penny Chiamopoulos, who also own the building.
Potikul said they were hopeful Ocaso would take off, given their collective passion for quality food and the hospitality industry. But it’s barely hanging on thanks to months of confusion.
For a while, customers couldn’t tell if the restaurant was open or closed because of the conflicting information online. As reservations kept getting canceled, the restaurant hardly had any walk-ins, Potikul said.
“We were like, ‘Oh my God.’ … We sat down and talked to each other: ‘Is my cooking that bad? Is my service that bad? What is going on that’s making it bad?'” she said.
Potikul acknowledged some people are fearful to dine in restaurants during this wave of the pandemic, which could lead to last-minute cancellations. But that doesn’t explain funky reservations under different people’s names and the bulk cancellations, she said.
“Around that time, I would have some reservations, we’d take the name, have a table set up and 15 minutes would pass by, then 30 minutes would pass by and no one would show,” Potikul said.
Chicago’s independently owned restaurants are struggling as it is, with the pandemic raging during the typically slow winter months. In the case of Ocaso, the scammer attack made a bad situation even worse.
Potikul said they each saved up to make Ocaso a reality and provide for their families.
“We’re trying to make a future, we’re trying to make a dream come true, but it’s getting stopped by someone … who maybe wanted to steal somebody’s identity. There’s many ways to make a living without hurting other people,” she said.
Things have improved at Ocaso after Potikul got her laptop fixed and removed the fake Facebook page. Potikul said there have been some cancellations, but she’s been able to reach those people. Weeknights are still slow, but brunch has picked up, she said.
Potikul said they’ve agreed to stick it out until summer. She said she owes it to the patrons who’ve dined with them or stopped in and wished them well.
“We’re so proud of having Ocaso. I love Ocaso so much. We want it to be around,” she said.
Ocaso is open 5-10 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturdays and 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Sundays.
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