Davide Cerretini could not take it anymore.
An experienced chef, born in Tuscany, and now running his own small pizza place, called Botto Bistro, in a humble neighbourhood across the bay from San Francisco, Cerretini was growing increasingly tired of being beholden to customers leaving online reviews.
Even though the majority of his customers left positive reviews on Yelp, the dominant platform at the time (this was 2014) the occasional bad one haunted him. He just could not let it go.
And worst still, Cerretini suspected that Yelp was actively removing positive reviews every time he rebuffed their efforts to sell advertising.
“I came from Italy, and know exactly what mafia extortion looks like,” he said. “Yelp was manipulating reviews and hoping I would pay a protection fee. I didn’t come to America and work for 25 years to be extorted by some idiot in Silicon Valley.”
Some businesses try to game the system by incentivising customers to leave good reviews or even paying shady operators to leave a raft of fake five-star reviews.
But Cerretini did something very different. Cerretini started asking people to leave one-star reviews.
Better yet, he started offering a discount to anyone that did so. Diners would be given 25% off the bill if they left a one-star review on Yelp. Then they would be given a sticker stating ‘I gave Botto one star on Yelp.’
“It may sound to you like a suicide mission,” Cerretini said at the time. “But our business is up.”
Later he expanded on what motivated him to do it.
“Yelp asked me to pay them so they can criticise me better. I have a good idea — if they call me — where to put the stars, but that’s on them.”
Cerretini’s stunt captured people’s imagination across America. He was hailed a hero by other small business owners for standing up against the tyranny of review platforms, visited by journalists, and appeared everywhere from Fox News and CNN to CNBC and the Daily Show with Trevor Noah.
Before long he had refined his persona enough to become the ‘one-star chef’ full-time.
Today Cerretini is a celebrity with a sideline in private dining, online classes and books.
As for Botto Bistro, Cerretini sold that to a business called Mountain Mike’s Pizza in 2020. Today it has an average of 2.5 stars, and seemingly a loyal and happy customer base.