Alcohol

Regulators Go After Ultra, the D.C. Booze Delivery App. Ultra Rolls Over and Plays Dead.

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barbie cocktails
partymonstrrrr / photo on flickr

Yesterday the D.C. Alcohol Beverage Control Board dropped a cease and desist order into the laps of the booze delivery app Ultra.

Although Ultra partners with a licensed booze purveyor to fulfill orders of wine, beer and spirits and deliver them to D.C. households, the board found Ultra was "soliciting orders for sale" and processing customer payments, necessitating a license. The board's reasoning was laid out in a March advisory opinion rendered for another start-up, BeerRightNow.com.

The squabble precisely mirrors the nearly three-year long fight between the District and Uber, the car hailing app. Both companies say they are simply facilitating transactions between individuals and are therefore outside the domain of regulators who govern liquor stores or taxi drivers. 

But where Uber has gone on the offensive, Ultra plans to roll over and play dead:

Ultra owner Aniket Shah said Thursday he is committed to working with the ABC Board to finding a way to operate under the current rules…. 

"We are not defiant," he said. "We are hoping to comply completely with all regulations, and we take these regulations very seriously. We want good relations with [the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration] and the partner stores. We don't want to risk the licenses of our partner stores, not only in D.C. but through the U.S."

Shah said he'll be meeting with regulators Friday to work though the issues, but he said Ultra will stop taking D.C. orders while the matter is resolved.

Don't get me wrong, I don't blame the guy. And I don't intend to go all Niemoller on him. After all, he's operating in the super-regulated booze biz, a market that continues to be plagued by a serious Prohibition hangover. By playing possum, he's doing what he thinks is best for the survival of his business. (Which is a freaking great idea, by the by. Standardized, app-based booze delivery? Yes, please!)

But there's something about Uber's response to similar government maneuvering that gladdens the heart. When you get a cease and desist letter, you can say "oops, we're very very sorry, we'll change the way we do business even i" or you can do what Uber co-founder Travis Kalanick did: Post the letter to your Instagram account with a snide note about "cartels."

Meanwhile, Uber's entrenched opponents in the taxi cartel are still using analog tactics. A strike gridlocked downtown D.C. this week. The goal was somehow to raise awareness of the need to shut down the popular app. Instead, the cab-hailers of the city tried to flag cabs, grumped about the unreliability of cabs, and then opened up their Uber apps to grab a private car instead. Of course sometimes the taxi commission just has people who disagree with them arrested

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  1. How dare these people engage in economic activity without asking permission and obeying orders!

    What do they think this is? A free enterprise system?

  2. When the eight hundred pound gorilla has its foot on your neck, it’s hard to keep your eye on the big picture.

  3. “We let people who want rides find people who want to give them a ride” is a lot easier to fight for than “we deliver booze to people’s homes WHERE THEIR UNDERAGE CHILDREN ARE UNSUPERVISED!!!”

    It’s unfortunate but that’s the completely fucked up locked down control heavy culture we live in. If the scum who want to shut you down can find any plausible “FUR TEH CHILLEN” angle, you are probably wise to grovel.

    1. They don’t deliver to people’s homes. They deliver the booze to licensed liquor stores, where the customer then picks it up. I can’t fathom even a bullshit reason that the app should be regulated.

  4. But there’s something about Uber’s response to similar government maneuvering that gladdens the heart.

    There unquestionably is, but BOOZE! and CHILLUNZ! are a deadly combination.

    What if some twenty year old child ordered a bottle of wine for a quiet home cooked dinner with his nineteen year old child girlfriend and then sexually molested her by having consensual sex? Some risks are simply too great to countenance.

  5. What if some twenty year old child, just back from a tour in Afghanistan, ordered a bottle of wine for a quiet home cooked dinner with his nineteen year old child girlfriend, just back from a tour in Djibouti, and then sexually molested her by having consensual sex?

    MIEMRFY

    (Made it Even More Ridiculous For You)

    1. tour in Djibouti, and then sexually

      Doing my beat not to make a Beavis and Butthead joke here.

    2. You can go one better here, though – an 18 year old giving a 20 year old liquor is…corrupting the morals of a minor. A person both older than 18 and older than they.

  6. The main difference is that its really hard to crack down on uber. How do you tell an uber driver from any one else on the road? Ultra OTOH relies on liquor stores that need a state license to operate. They could easily be shut down by making it illegal for the stores to sell to them. Nice license you got there it’d be a shame…

  7. BTW, saw a piece on the local news about the Uber-Taxi fight and of course they interviewed some fucker form the Teamsters.

    1. Did he remember to mention how Uber is going to rape everyone while launching drug-crazed terrorist attacks against nursery schools?

  8. Two completely different situations. Ultra needs a booze source for its company to exist…it can’t survive on its own. By fighting the Control Board, they bring anyone supplying them booze into the battle. A properly licensed booze business is not going to risk their license by doing business with someone fighting the Control Board. Uber does not have this kind of dependence on the taxi companies or anyone else, so they are free to fight. Although I still cheer for Uber’s very large middle finger.

  9. Why do children get to rule the world? We’re smarter than they are. We have more experience. We’re bigger. We outnumber them. Yet somehow whiny do-gooders manage to ruin everyone’s fun in the name of protecting the little brats. I say we lock them all in a dank cave until they turn 21, so they can never possibly be exposed to alcohol or boobies or swear words or small magnets or sharp edges or life.

    1. First off, the children don’t rule the world. They don’t rule it. Nobody does. And they don’t run in packs. And while they may not be as strong as us, don’t lock eyes with ’em, don’t do it. Puts ’em on edge. They might go into berzerker mode; come at you like a whirling dervish, all fists and elbows. You might be screaming “No, no, no” and all they hear is “Who wants cake?” Let me tell you something: They all do. They all want cake.

    2. If we lock them all up till their 21, where will we get new sorority girls with little inhibitions?

      TIWTANLW

      1. They’ll all be in one location, for EZ shopping. Win-win!

        1. Hmm, I hadn’t thought about it that way.

    3. Not all parents are like that. But thanks for calling our kids “brats” with little regard for truth.

      1. You’re right, he should have used “rugrats” or “hellspawn”.

        1. Ankle biters. Germ factories.

          1. Crotch droppings

            1. +1 sperm
              +1 egg

      2. Would you like some cheese with your whine?

    4. Nah, go with Huxley’s solution.

  10. How ironic is it that the owner of Ultra says to regulators that he is not defiant whilst operating in the city named after the leader of a rebellion that was at least partially inspired by beverage regulations. The founders must be STDH in their graves… 😛

  11. We are not defiant,” he said. “We are hoping to comply completely with all regulations, and we take these regulations very seriously. We want good relations with [the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration] and the partner stores. We don’t want to risk the licenses of our partner stores, not only in D.C. but through the U.S.”

    Not reading past.

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