Restaurateurs already reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic crash were hit again over the weekend as protests over the death of George Floyd at the hand of a Minneapolis police officer were frequently accompanied by vandalism and looting.
“I’m not angry. I’m sad,” said Nick Vojnovic, president of Little Greek Franchise Development in Tampa, Fla., whose own unit of the 42-unit chain was looted in the early hours Sunday.
He said the fact that his doors were smashed in at around 2:30 a.m. and his point-of-sale system and safe were broken into indicated that his property wasn’t vandalized by people enraged by social injustice, but by thieves.
“These were not protestors. These were — ‘The police are busy elsewhere; we’re going to take advantage of this,’” he said.
Vojnovic said that, although unlike business lost to pandemics, damage from looting was generally covered by business interruption insurance. But that only kicked in if restaurants were closed for three days or more. And with deductibles, restaurants would be lucky to recoup half of their lost income.
To keep his restaurant from being looted again on Sunday night, Vojnovic’s daughter placed the smashed safe outside and wrote “Already looted” on the pavement.
Vojnovic expressed support for the actual protesters.
“I understand their anger,” he said, referring to the video of Floyd’s death that sparked national outrage. “I don’t blame them. That video is horrendous. It’s a shame and it’s criminal.”
Similar sympathy was expressed by restaurateurs across the country.
Gandhi Mahal restaurant in Minneapolis was damaged by fire, and on Facebook its owners thanked their neighbors for standing guard but said more important matters were at hand.
“I am sitting next to my dad [owner Ruhel Islam] watching the news,” Islam’s daughter Hafsa said in the post. “I hear him say on the phone; ‘let my building burn, Justice needs to be served, put those officers in jail.’ Gandhi Mahal May have felt the flames last night, but our firey drive to help protect and stand with our community will never die! Peace be with everyone. #JusticeforGeorgeFloyd #BLM”
A supporter of a local Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen unit simply posted an image of the gutted building.
Restaurateurs who were not physically impacted by the unrest nonetheless got involved.
In West Hollywood, Calif., Canter’s Deli was in the thick of one hot spot of looting and fires in Los Angeles, but the restaurant offered practical, short-term help in the form of free water for protesters. A sign in the window reportedly expressed support for the Black Lives Matter movement, and the restaurant was unscathed.
Los Angeles Restaurateur Roy Choi in a post on Instagram offered his help in a longer-term effort to create task forces to address inequalities in society.
“A state of emergency not only applies literally to the lockdown of a city but to what led the citizens to be angered & hurt. The loss of lives & most pressingly, innocent black lives, is a state of emergency. The inequities of institutional racism is a state of emergency. The inability to make a living in a system that makes you pay for all basic human services as an exchange for financial freedom, yet is becoming almost impossible to make that living to even have that freedom, is a state of emergency,” he said.
Nick Bayer, founder and CEO of Saxbys, a 24-unit coffeehouse chain, pledged to redouble his efforts to fight for equality. He took the moment to reflect on his unearned privilege of being born white and male.
“I literally had nothing to do with the creation of my gender or skin color but have undoubtedly benefited from both when so many others sadly didn’t have the same fortune,” he said on LinkedIn.
He said the inequality he witnessed growing up inspired him to create an inclusive chain, and said that more than 70% his company’s staff were women or people of color.
“Our work is clearly far from over … Consider me ALL IN on the fight for equality and equity for all. Let’s spread the word about being good to one another, but for more importantly, let’s show it through actions.”
Chicago restaurateur Nick Kokonas of The Alinea Group tweeted an image of the message he sent to employees over the weekend, in which he shared the story of the one black chef in his kitchen a decade ago, and an exchange they had about how the idea of “service” was different from them.
‘[H]e said to me, ‘When I told my mom I wanted to be a chef — that I loved to cook — she told me that we worked for two generations to stop serving white people. Why the hell are you going back to doing that?’”
Kokonas said that conversation underscored the privilege with which he was raised.
“None of us needs such a fine filter or personal one-on-one lesson for what is happening this week in our country and our city. Coming on the back of a pandemic, the more insidious and human-made virus is our own bias and racism against our fellow humans. It is painful because it is so damn obvious,” he said.
Restaurateur Brian Ingram was both practical and philosophical. He fed first responders, demonstrators, homeless people and anyone else they could out of Hope Breakfast Bar.
“We are called to serve. We are called to feed our community. We are called to feed the people. Today and every day we will continue to Give Hope. We will continue to love our neighbors as ourselves. We will continue to be a force for good. Today was one of the worst and best days of our lives. Stay safe friends. Deliver some Hope today. The world needs it. The world needs you. #givehope #saintpaul #justice”
Contact Bret Thorn at [email protected]
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