This conversation was over before it started.
The owner of a Crown Heights restaurant criticized for using the neighborhood’s violent past as a promotional tool was a no-show at a rally there on July 22, angering residents who thought they would have a chance to work things out.
“We gave her a perfect opportunity, even if she just wanted to do damage control. But she didn’t want to talk to anybody,” Ayanna Prescod, who has lived locally for 30 years, said of restaurant owner Becca Brennan. “It’s total bad business.”
The event was organized as a way for community members to speak directly to the owner of “boozy sandwich shop” Summerhill after she incited ire last week with a press release that boasted a “bullet hole–ridden wall” inside the recently opened space at 637 Nostrand Ave. between Bergen Street and St. Marks Avenue.
The business’s social media accounts promoted the wall — which Gothamist later confirmed was not perforated by bullets — in advertisements for its $12 cocktails, in addition to featuring images of 40-ounce bottles of rosé served in brown bags. The restaurant’s profiles on Instagram and Yelp — where it currently enjoys a one-and-a-half-star rating — were flooded with critical messages in response, and fliers that called its owner a racist, colonialist gentrifier were posted around Crown Heights.
Organizers of the rally brought a list of demands — which included repairing the hole-ridden wall — and other suggestions for making amends with the community to the event. But when the proprietor did not appear and sent a lone representative to face the crowd with a statement on her behalf, the demonstrators tore up the credo, saying it was not their responsibility to get her back into neighbors’ good graces.
“I ended up ripping up the list of demands and saying, ‘Boycott the establishment,’ ” said Justine Stephens, a rally organizer. “As a community I don’t think it’s our job to hold them accountable — that just makes it easy for them. I think they can see the anger and hurt they’ve caused.”
Brennan, a former corporate tax attorney and self-described Toronto transplant, said in the statement that she was sorry for unintentionally making light of the nabe’s conflicted past in her marketing.
“I deeply apologize for any offense that my recent comments might have caused,” she wrote. “I did not intend to be insensitive to anyone in the neighborhood, and I am sorry that my words have caused pain.”
But she stopped short of promising to fix the controversial wall, which she said would be kept in tact for cosmetic purposes.
“The reason we maintained the distressed wall is for the aesthetic,” Brennan said in the statement. “We have kept other elements of the original space as well to create a visually engaging experience.”
Stephens said that Brennan contacted her and fellow demonstrators after the event in an attempt to arrange a follow-up discussion, but she is not sure whether they will accept the reviled restaurateur’s offer.
“We haven’t responded,” said Stephens. “We’re still developing what we’re going to say in reply.”
Crown Heights was home to a three-day riot in 1991 that set off when the motorcade of an Hasidic Jewish leader ran over two Guyanese immigrants, killing one of them.