Wheel Deliver has apparently rolled off the map, owing thousands of dollars to partner restaurants.
Launched more than 20 years ago, the service that delivered restaurant meals to college students and residential customers has been MIA for at least a week, with no activity at the 6524 Wilkins Ave. address in Squirrel Hill, neighbors confirm. A handful of restaurants that partnered with the service are trying to track down the owner for money, while students and other residents hold Wheel Deliver gift cards that may now be worthless.
Steven Makoroff more than 24 years ago bought Wheel Deliver from then-partners Tom Baron — now of Big Burrito — and Mike Hanley of Fuel and Fuddle, Uncle Sam’s and now a partner in Burgatory.
Mr. Makoroff has not responded to phone calls and emails from the Post-Gazette.
Wheel Deliver was ahead of the curve at the time, allowing college students and other residents to order meals from various restaurant menus and have it delivered for an added fee.
Since Wheel Deliver started, the market has been flooded with similar delivery options. UberEATS is the newest, having begun in Pittsburgh in May, following GrubHub, Postmates and OrderUp, as well as the Lawrenceville-based Happy Bellies. At its peak, Wheel Deliver worked with dozens of restaurants, from Mad Mex to Steel Cactus and other locally owned spots. Mad Mex stopped working with Wheel Deliver in 2014.
Ceasar Makhoul, co-owner of Ali Baba in Oakland, says Wheel Deliver owes the restaurant between $5,000 and $6,000. He says he tried to reach the company last week and got a message that it would reopen the following day; he never was able to get in touch. His restaurant and others are banding together to report the issue to law enforcement. In the meantime, Ali Baba is now working with Happy Bellies for delivery services.
“They screwed us out of a lot of money,” said Kevin Weaver, co-owner with his brother Rob of Capri Pizzeria in East Liberty. Before Wheel Deliver disappeared, the staff noticed bigger-than-usual orders the past few weeks, enough to feed catering gigs, making the most recent tabs higher than usual.
A staff person from Alexander’s Italian Bistro in Bloomfield says there has been trouble with Wheel Deliver for the past six months, with slow payment from the company, late payments and checks bouncing. She estimated the restaurant is owed somewhere around $3,000. Lot 17 in Bloomfield also has also been affected by the company’s disappearance.
Customers are in a holding pattern to find out whether they’ll be reimbursed. Jon Klancher of Highland Park says he had a gift certificate for $500 and used only $50 on it before the company fell off the grid. Another user on the message board Next Door confirmed offline he has been emailing and calling Wheel Deliver for more than a week about the outstanding balance on a gift card and has not been able to get in touch.
With the many challenges of running an independent restaurant, the disappearance of the local delivery company ratchets up restaurants’ angst.
“You want to support local independent businesses like Wheel Deliver,” says Rob Weaver of Capri Pizzeria, “but after something like this happens, it can be too risky.”
Melissa McCart: firstname.lastname@example.org