Another Chicago eatery owner is facing social media backlash in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd.
Abraham Conlon, the co-owner of Fat Rice, a recently-shuttered Portuguese/Macanese restaurant, released a statement Sunday via his Instagram feed titled “For those I have hurt” amid allegations claiming bullying, threats, and racially insensitive behavior toward employees.
On Sunday, Conlon, who was unavailable for comment after multiple attempts Monday by the Sun-Times to reach him, wrote in part: “I have hurt and let down many people. I hear the criticism of my character and behavior. As process and reflect, I’m realizing who I am, who I’ve become, and how I need to change. I am taking this time to learn and to grow so that I may be better for the people I have damaged.”
Conlon’s statement came after Fat Rice posted a statement to its Instagram feed last week saying in part: “Fat Rice was founded on the celebration of community, diversity, food cultures and food heritage. We welcome all. We serve all. … We remain dedicated to our values, we oppose all forms of racism, and we stand with those fighting for justice and equality in our communities in Chicago and across the world.”
In the aftermath of Fat Rice’s declaration, commenters flooded the comment section calling them out and alleging cultural appropriation and mistreatment of employees amid the pandemic.
“You’re really not going to say it? You’re not going to say #Blacklivesmatter, even though you take from Black culture ALL the time?” one commenter posted.
One Facebook post alleges Conlon spearheaded the mistreatment of employees saying they were “disrespected, gaslighted, abused, traumatized, dismissed, assaulted, taunted, humiliated, bullied, mistreated, singled out, violated, threatened, manipulated by [Conlon].”
Two months ago, Conlon and co-owner Adrienne Lo, who was also not available for comment, announced Fat Rice’s closure in the aftermath of Gov. Pritzker’s March mandate shuttering all dine-in restaurant services. The pair had been operating the restaurant since 2012. The James Beard Award winning duo reopened the site as Super Fat Rice Mart, a meals kit-only marketplace.
Eric Williams, the owner of the Silver Room in Hyde Park, was not surprised when he got wind of Conlon’s statement when he was tagged in Conlon’s aforementioned Instagram post where commenters accused the chef of usurping the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag.
In 2019, Williams, who runs the annual Silver Room Block Party in Hyde Park, spoke to Eater Chicago about Conlon’s refusal to stop playing hip-hop music with the n-word uncensored at the now-shuttered Logan Square eatery.
“I’ve been around the block, and I’ve met a lot of guys like him; there’s a sense of entitlement,” said Williams. “It was a sense of entitlement and a sense of ownership of someone else’s culture, and he doesn’t understand that. … You’re taking someone else’s culture; it’s not yours.
“He couldn’t admit that. … When I read all the comments, It sounds like the guy I talked to who doesn’t listen. It’s a sense of entitlement. It’s a sense of ownership. In light of everything that’s happening with Black Lives Matter, and the comments on that, [Conlon becomes] part of the problem. I think some people got fed up, and that was the last straw. So, I wasn’t really surprised by that.”
In another incident, Eater Chicago reported that Nini’s Deli closed permanently over the weekend in the aftermath of protests condemning its owners, Juan “Juany” and José Riesco, for making a series of racist and homophobic statements. According to the report, the restaurant’s bright pink brick facade at the corner of Noble and Ohio was painted over with a Black Lives Matter logo.