The Buttermilk Drop does more morning business than nearly anyone else on the city’s Uber Eats, its owners say. People hit the order button nonstop every morning, buying boxes of the bakery’s signature pastry, the Buttermilk Drop, and bigger breakfasts:  shrimp and grits, omelets, breakfast rice with sausage and eggs, breakfast sandwiches, fried chicken, pancakes, waffles and French toast.

The iconic, family-owned eatery on North Dorgenois Street in the 7th Ward has been around since 2008. Seven years ago, they began doing online orders. The restaurant’s overall operations now rely on the daily online breakfasts, which usually total about $5,000 a week.

People pay and order with a click. It goes into the Uber Eats system, where an Uber Eats driver gets notice of a Buttermilk Drop order, picks it up and delivers it. It worked like clockwork.

Or it did. Until last week.

One week ago, last Monday, the weaknesses of Uber Eats online system became clear, when manager Tiffany London-Henry noticed that they were missing a week’s worth of payments from the Uber Eats system, which typically takes its cut and then deposits the rest each week to a vendor’s account.

As she checked more into the situation, she realized that someone had changed the bank account, from the restaurant’s local Hancock Whitney account to an unknown Bank of America account in Atlanta. It was made worse by Uber’s reliance on online communication, with rare human contact, to the point that the bakery’s local Uber Eats reps didn’t respond to a single message.

Starting last Monday, multiple, frantic calls and email messages to Uber Eats local rep went unanswered. People that London-Henry spoke with through Uber Eats’ 1-800 number couldn’t get to the bottom of the problem.

By Friday, owners Darrius Henry and Sidney Holmes were overwrought, worried that they were about to lose another week’s revenues.

Nearby small businesses also expressed concerns. Though there’s no local data for apps like DoorDash and Uber Eats, national studies have found that food-delivery apps have seen a 41% increase in users since the start of the pandemic in 2020. Online food ordering now accounts for roughly 40% of restaurant sales. For a small family-owned business like the Buttermilk Drop, losing that revenue even momentarily felt catastrophic.

“I was a nervous wreck,” said NeeNee Louise, who has worked several years at the bakery, which also recently hired her teenage daughter. Another worker also has a daughter that works at the bakery, she said. “So we were worried about our work family at the Buttermilk, as well as the families we go home to.”

The Buttermilk Drop bakery on North Dorgenois Street, near the intersection of Broad and St. Bernard Avenues. Photo by La’Shance Perry / The Lens Credit: La'Shance Perry / Culture & Community – The Lens

Finally, on Friday afternoon, after an email from The Lens, Javier Correoso, Uber’s director for public policy and communications, was able to get its corporate folks involved, freezing the account.

After an investigation over the weekend, Uber believes that the business was the victim of a phishing scam and that someone had likely given the account’s credentials to a hacker, Correoso said, noting that Uber’s conditions note that “merchants have a responsibility to protect their logins and credentials.” By the end of the day today (Monday, December 4), Correoso said, someone from Uber would be contacting Henry to finalize a refund for the amount transferred to the wrongful account.

The bakery will also be getting a new local Uber Eats rep, since the rep they had been calling no longer worked for the company and hadn’t worked for them “for awhile,” Correoso said.

Darrius Henry is mystified by that conclusion. Only he and the manager, London-Henry, know the credentials. Both of them would be highly wary of any inquiries about it, he said. 

Henry wonders if someone hacked into the New Orleans Uber Eats system and targeted its top local breakfast business? Because, unlike other delivery services which are more lax about account protection, Uber’s own procedures do not allow merchants to hop online and make the kind of changes that the hacker made, he said. “We’d have to validate our identities and make those changes by phone, with someone from Uber.”

In spite of his suspicions about the root causes, Henry is relieved about the resolution, he said.

After all, he had been faced with entering December down nearly $10,000. They couldn’t access the money in the frozen Uber account. Employees trying to save up for Christmas had expressed concerns about whether they’d have to work decreased shifts. Last week, they said, business felt very slow, because the Buttermilk couldn’t take any orders on Uber Eats until Uber finishes its investigation. “Because of circumstances outside of our control, we were stuck,” Henry said.