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George Floyd Protests Hit Miami's Restaurant Community While It Was Down

Vandalism at Tacocraft in Fort Lauderdale
Vandalism at Tacocraft in Fort Lauderdale
Photo courtesy of Marc Falsetto

Marc Falsetto's phone rang Sunday evening at around 10 p.m. with news that restaurants in downtown Fort Lauderdale were being vandalized.

"I couldn't get down there to see what was happening because of the curfew," Falsetto tells New Times. When the CEO of Handcrafted Hospitality Group finally got to the corridor of restaurants and bars on Southwest Second Street known as Himmarshee Village, he was astounded. Windows at Tacocraft, one of two restaurants he owns in the neighborhood, were smashed. A block to the west, outside his other establishment, Pizzacraft, the umbrellas were broken.

Nearby, Himmarshee Public House, a Fort Lauderdale institution, was covered in graffiti and its windows were shattered, and O-B House, a breakfast favorite, had been broken into.

"We were closed for two months and barely hung on to survive," Falsetto says. "We finally got the order to reopen and now we've taken a huge step backward."

He posted about the damage on Facebook, writing, "Peaceful protests ruined by Vandals! Weak weak weak This is what our hardworking team and neighbors downtown wake up to this morning. I will take the high road on this one as everyone is super sensitive these days."

Falsetto says the vandalism, coupled with the loss of revenue caused by the curfew Broward County officials imposed, will cost him tens of thousands of dollars.

"It's all just added work and added stress," says the restaurant owner, adding that he "100 percent believes in the protests and the movement." But for a staff still trying to find its equilibrium after a pandemic-induced shutdown, this added blow has been all the more difficult to absorb. "How do you plan? How do you schedule during the curfew? I have employees who don't want to drive here because they're afraid for their cars. How do you deal with that uncertainty?"

Fort Lauderdale wasn't the only South Florida locale where demonstrators assembled over the weekend to protest the killing of George Floyd, the 46-year-old black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer was captured on video pressing his knee into the unarmed man's neck as three fellow officers stood by.

Stephanie Vittori tells New Times she'd finally seen some signs of life emerging on South Beach Saturday evening when police officers directed her to shut down by 10 p.m.

"There were protests and I understand that. But my restaurant stays open through everything," she says. "This is kicking us while we're down."

Vittori, who owns Cheeseburger Baby says Washington Avenue, usually a busy thoroughfare, has resembled a ghost town since Saturday.

"It's completely dead. This is worse than it was before. I'm sitting here trying to make a schedule and give everyone hours, but I've had two orders so far. What do you want me to do with that?"

She says she's all about the right to protest peacefully and notes that "America was built on protests." But she's frustrated at how the recent protests have been handled. "We've just opened back up and we're being destroyed," she says. "I've been here 20 years. I've worked almost my whole life trying to build up this business."

Looking south from Lil Greenhouse, the soul-food restaurant he co-owns on NW Third Avenue in Overtown, chef Karim Bryant could see the protests unfolding in downtown Miami on Sunday.

"I literally could walk out the door and see what was going on," Bryant says. When groups started to coalesce on the streets nearby, he and his partners James "Buckwheat" Gibson and Keon Williams took action. "It boils down to being aware of what's going on and trying to get ahead of it," Bryant explains. "We didn't know who the organizers are and we didn't know what their intentions are."

Several times on Sunday, Gibson took to Facebook Live to rally the Overtown community to beware of the influx of demonstrators. He was convinced that the majority weren't from the neighborhood and that many were intent on inflicting damage on local businesses and endangering residents.

Bryant says about 300 people had converged on Overtown's St. John's Baptist Church when he and his fellow neighborhood leaders resolved to disperse the group.

"This is a historic black church in Miami," he says. "Why would I want to see my neighborhood burnt down? I am a business owner. I am a homeowner. We tried to nip it in the bud. We are protecting our property."

Bryant, Gibson, Williams, and other members of the Circle of Brotherhood community group admonished the protesters to leave Overtown and head east toward Biscayne Boulevard.

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"By moving the crowd east, the police were able to manage the situation last night," Bryant says. "I don't blame the police. They can't be everywhere."

Bryant says he too is angry about George Floyd's death, which has been ruled a homicide. But he doesn't think it's right for outsiders to descend on Overtown — the cultural heart of Miami's black community, and the site of race riots on numerous occasions during the 1980s and early 1990s — to demonstrate.

"I'm not telling anyone not to protest," he says. "We are all feeling this pain and we need accountability and logical change. But we're trying to get back to a sense of normalcy and it's not possible with this chaos. We're not going to let people tear up our neighborhood."

Adds Bryant: "We have a lot of old people in the neighborhood, and they've seen enough. Take it somewhere else. To us, it's not just serving food. It's serving the community at every level."

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