An Old Montreal restaurant is facing online criticism from an incident that occurred after a customer scrawled “no coronavirus here” on its front window. A woman who disapproved of that message says that the restaurant owner confronted her for her reaction — but the restaurant owner claims it was all a misunderstood “joke”.
This incident happened about a week ago, but has drawn media attention after the passerby at the centre of it detailed her experience with the restaurant on social media.
Vancouver woman Tiffany Sung says she and a friend walked by French restaurant License IV on St-Paul Street one night, and saw the “no coronavirus here” words written in white marker on the restaurant’s windows. (At the time of the incident, very few cases of the novel coronavirus had been detected around Montreal, and none of those cases had links to restaurants.)
As she walked by the restaurant, she says a man and a woman in the window started banging on the window and pointing at her. In a report from CBC, she said they were trying to draw her attention to the writing; a photo that Sung took appears to show two people trying to get her attention.
Sung says she mouthed “what the fuck?” at the two people, in reaction to the strange coronavirus claim written on the window. She says that as an east Asian woman, she was concerned that the two people were singling her out for her ethnicity (elsewhere in Montreal, symbols of the Chinese community have been targeted in recent weeks over racist fears that members of this community might be carrying COVID-19), although she also acknowledged that the writing could have been an “inappropriate but simply ignorant joke”.
Restaurant owner Ludovic Marionnet says he did not mean for the message or actions to appear racist, and that it was a joke that had been misinterpreted. It’s unclear if Marionnet or somebody else wrote “no coronavirus here” in the windows — he told CTV Montreal that the message was “not intended to come off racist”, but the same article quotes a message from the restaurant saying that a “drunk client” wrote the words.
But the situation didn’t end there — Marionnet allegedly exited the restaurant to confront Sung. She said she criticized him over the writing, but feeling that he was displaying “threatening body language”, she started filming. (Marionnet disputes this, saying that it was Sung who acted aggressively.)
The woman who had been banging on the window also came outside to yell. Sung says Marionnet then threatened to call the police on her (even though the incident was taking place in a public space, and Sung had never entered the restaurant).
Sung says she then walked away, and later detailed the incident on Facebook.
The controversy is now dragging on via social media — Marionnet responded to Sung’s post with an apology of sorts, but criticized Sung for her post. “The writings were foolish and unnecessary YES. But this hate propaganda is also unacceptable.”
When contacted by Eater, Marionnet also gave an apology.
“I wanted to reiterate our sincere apologies for the situation that occurred the other night. It was regrettable and an isolated incident. We have been in the restaurant industry for more than 20 years and will remain a welcoming and inclusive establishment.”
Prior to being contacted by Eater, the restaurant also published a note on its Facebook page, saying the message was “childish, yes. Not racist.”
However, the note then goes on to accuse Sung of acting in bad faith, criticizing her reaction to the message; the note did not address Sung’s claim that it was people inside the restaurant who provoked the situation by banging on the window.
“Unfortunately, a person felt victimized and sent a fck-you-finger (sic) to the owner and his girlfriend sitting near the window. The owner immediately came outside to ask [ what’s going on ] and the latter told him off; threatened to share the story; left infuriated and posted the escalating accusations.”
Sung stands by her reaction, noting that even if the message wasn’t racist, it was still in poor taste.
“Even if not a racist act, this is not something to be joking about as thousands of people have died and likely more will suffer or die as a consequence of this disease.”