NEW HAMPTON — Three years ago, Scott Buitta dropped off a load of firewood at Chris Bell’s Traveling Texas Smoke Shop on Route 104.
On that point, both men agree. Beyond that, disagreement is as plentiful as ribs at a barbecue restaurant.
Belknap County Superior Court Judge James D. O'Neill III on Monday dismissed Buitta's request for a restraining order against Bell and Bell’s partner, Aimee Gibson.
Buitta, who owns the BBQ Shak and Smokehouse at 559 Route 104 is in competition with Bell’s Traveling Texas Smoke Shop, 368 Route 104. The two New Hampton businesses are about a mile apart.
Buitta sought the restraining order after Gibson and Bell each placed a negative review on his Facebook page on June 11.
Buitta’s goal was to prevent further negative online comments from the couple, which he labeled as harassment and a threat to his business. He said he also began receiving negative comments in other online platforms.
He told Judge O’Neill on Friday, however, that he didn’t receive any actual threats, and the judge found there was not sufficient basis to grant a restraining order.
Buitta said he was disappointed with the ruling.
“Here I am trying to do the right thing and I was blatantly attacked by a competitor,” he said Monday. “I’m trying to protect myself against cyber bullying.”
For his part, Bell said he had every right to comment.
“I went on his Facebook page and wrote a bad review, but I’m allowed my opinions and everything I said on there was true, and I don’t have any shame in that,” Bell said in an interview on the grassy property he rents on the westbound side of Route 104 about a mile east of Interstate 93.
Route 104 is a primary traffic path into the Lakes Region from Interstate 93.
Bell said the two men met three years ago when he went online to find someone who could deliver a load of wood for his smoker.
Buitta provided the wood and returned frequently to help with landscaping and other chores.
Bell said Buitta was helping voluntarily, but Buitta said he was expecting payment that he never received.
In any case, Buitta bought an old gravel pit and set up his own barbecue operation, which is about a mile east of where Bell now runs his business. Earlier, Bell was located outside a moccasin store on Route 104 in Meredith. He also has had previous locations in The Weirs and elsewhere in Laconia.
Bell said he has also received some negative online reviews in recent months after years of only positive comments for his business, which operates during the tourist season. The rest of the year, he returns to Texas.
Most of the Facebook comments for both businesses are positive, and both seem to have a steady flow of customers.
Buitta said he contacted Google and was told there was nothing the company could do.
“This happened to me, and it could happen to you,” he said. “What Google said basically was that, even if things are not true, we are not taking it down.”