I’m reliably informed that it’s just a tiny little dive, the sort of place that runs out of food when more people show up than expected or where something in the kitchen breaks and it has to close the doors. If you don’t care for that sort of treatment, then the First Street Restaurant isn’t for you.
Charlene Towe claims management at First Street would not book an event for her friend, Nora Potts, despite hosting a similar event for them the week prior. In a social media post that has gone viral, Potts claims they wanted to make the event a weekly occurrence, but that request was denied due in part to an employee feeling “uncomfortable.”
They claim a racial comment was made as the group was asked to leave.
They took to social media, as one does, to teach the restaurant a lesson, if it could survive. The owner, on the other hand, explained that racism had nothing to do with it, as this dive was still tiny and little regardless of the skin color of those who wanted a table.
First Street’s owner, Bill Babamov, said they couldn’t honor the accommodations due to the group’s size. He said the issue was that they were trying to hold it over St. Patrick’s Day weekend.
“We hosted an event a week ago, but it was overcrowded,” Babamov said. “They packed the restaurant to where it was a safety hazard.”
Towe organized a “sit-in,” where they would take over every table and only order drinks. When the place closed and they refused to leave, Babamov called the police.
First Street provided a surveillance video that shows the group seated for approximately three hours. Eventually, police were called and Towe says her party was asked to leave. Fort Myers police clarified on March 24 they were called to assist with multiple customers on the premises after business hours. “No specific person” was targeted, per a police statement.
“It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it,” said Towe. “I think he could have been way nicer about the situation.”
Afterward, the Lee County NAACP got involved, its president, James Muwakkil, saying that no black person should patronize the restaurant and demanded that the owner apologize. And then he decided to watch the video.
Muwakkil said he came out swinging too hard and in a letter apologized for accusing the restaurant of discrimination.
“The reality that the first street restaurant committed white supremacy among blacks is false,” Muwakkil said.
Nora Potts claimed she and others were refused service and she said she sensed the restaurant didn’t want her and others there.
However, Muwakkil said he saw video evidence the restaurant was closing to all patrons after a malfunction in the kitchen and video showed staff telling white and black customers they were closing as a result.
“They did not put the white community over blacks in this period of time,” Muwakkil explained.
Sometimes, a restaurant is just a tiny little dive that treats all its customers the same, even if they’re black. And it’s always good to learn that the “reality” that this tiny little dive that “committed white supremacy” is false. At least this time.
Patrons like Betty Fucci who supports the restaurant are pleased that the NAACP apologized.
“Everybody makes a mistake. I’m glad they’re coming forward and telling it like it is,” Fucci said.
Babamov isn’t quite as impressed by Muwakkil’s sorry-ish apology, but then, it’s not as if he’s going to sue or try to get a Tik Tok creator to back a sit-in at the Lee County NAACP office.
Babamov said he was aware of the NAACP apology. However, he didn’t want to make any further comments and preferred to put the whole thing behind him.
This immigrant with a thick accent whose patrons include black and Cuban customers just wants to serve food until the next kitchen malfunction and not get smeared on social media for running his tiny little dive.