Tina’s has opened on Main Street
Pittsburgh police are investigating the latest twist involving Wheel Deliver, the Squirrel Hill-based restaurant delivery service owned by Steven Makoroff for more than 20 years that seemingly wheeled off the map several weeks ago.
Dean Tanner, owner of a rival delivery company in Lawrenceville, Happy Bellies, has filed a police report against Mr. Makoroff, claiming he has made false statements about Happy Bellies. Alicia George, the assistant public information officer for Pittsburgh’s public safety department, confirmed the police report.
Mr. Makoroff claims his business has been stolen by Happy Bellies. “Happy Bellies has the business now,” he wrote in an email to the Post-Gazette. “Actually stole it but they can deal with it.”
Wheel Deliver appeared to have closed several weeks ago, with no one answering the phone or emails and the names of partner restaurants scrubbed from the website. Since then, restaurants that partnered with the service have been trying to track down the owner for money owed, while gift card holders were trying to assess whether they’d be paid back for the balance on their gift cards.
Then last week, a sign on the door of Wheel Deliver that read “same staff/new owners” indicated that the business would reopen Nov. 7, with half off the delivery price through the end of the month. The website added 20 partner restaurants to its homepage, with an added claim that “Gossips and Misreporting About Wheel Deliver’s Death are Greatly Exaggerated.” (Mr. Makoroff declined to give the names of the two former staffers who he said were going to buy the business and have since backed out.)
In a phone call Thursday to the Post-Gazette, Mr. Makoroff said that Happy Bellies started acquiring his business starting around 2012. “Alex and Dean were my right hand,” he says of the duo that started Happy Bellies that had worked for Wheel Deliver. He claims that they had access to his computer files and poached restaurant and customers.
Happy Bellies owner Mr. Tanner says he did not take over the company and did not access computer files. “Happy Bellies has no affiliation with Wheel Deliver whatsoever,” he says.
The Wheel Deliver phone number now forwards to Happy Bellies and Mr. Tanner says that he has been receiving Wheel Deliver’s calls from debt collectors, customers, restaurants and insurance companies.
In addition, customers and restaurants that partnered with Wheel Deliver have received a faxed or emailed letter that appears as if it’s been written by Mr. Tanner and partner Alex Ciuca (with the name spelled “Ciuva”) — claiming that Happy Bellies will honor all customer gift cards and pay back Wheel Deliver’s debts. The letter is also posted to the Wheel Deliver website.
When Wheel Deliver closed several weeks ago, restaurants including Spice Island and Ali Baba in Oakland as well as Capri Pizzeria said the delivery company owed them thousands of dollars for deliveries they provided food for but for which they were never paid.
The letter also states that “your credit card security and emails were always at our disposal,” and issues an apology.
It reads that Mr. Tanner and Mr. Ciuca “worked for 20 years under Mr. Makoroff” and claims to have “taken advantage of Steve’s trust,” by “devising a plan to steal all of Wheel Deliver’s customer base” to start Happy Bellies.
It concludes with a promise to honor or reimburse gift cards and that “restaurants will be fully reimbursed through Tanner Industries,” a Philadelphia-based ammonia and chemical distribution company connected to Mr. Tanner’s uncle.
Dean Tanner says he did not write or authorize the letter. Neither his company nor his uncle’s company are paying back Wheel Deliver’s debt.
Since the letter was issued, the Wheel Deliver website directs customers and restaurants to Happy Bellies for a refund.
Melissa McCart: firstname.lastname@example.org; Instagram @postgazettefood; Facebook @postgazettefood