A prominent local restaurant group came under fire from employees as protests against systemic racism spread across the nation.

Had the incident been caught on video, it probably would’ve gone viral.

It was May 30, the first Saturday after protests against racism and police brutality had begun to roil Downtown Columbus. At the same time, the city’s restaurants were beginning to come alive after a mandatory Covid-19 hibernation. A Black staff member at Northstar Café in the Short North was stationed near the patio, working curbside carryout duty. Sitting on the patio were two customers having a private but loud conversation within earshot of the employee. Their words—which Northstar co-owner Kevin Malhame describes as “maliciously racist”—scared her.

“They were talking about how George Floyd had deserved to die. They said that all the protesters needed to be shot, and then they started using derogatory terms, and she overheard all this, and it made her uncomfortable,” says Zach Vargas, a former lead culinary partner (aka kitchen manager) at the Short North restaurant, who later spoke to the employee about the incident. (To protect the employee’s identity, we are withholding her name. She was contacted for this story but did not respond.)

The employee requested to move inside, and she did. When the managers on duty heard about it, they decided their hands were tied. Since the customers had not threatened the staffer to her face, they weren’t asked to leave.

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