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Minneapolis restaurateur prioritizes justice for George Floyd, while others bemoan the damage

Demonstrators gathered outside a burning fast food restaurant on Friday night in Minneapolis.
Demonstrators gathered outside a burning fast food restaurant on Friday night in Minneapolis.John Minchillo/Associated Press/Associated Press

Charles Stotts was still in shock from events that unfolded Thursday night as locals continued to protest the death of George Floyd after an encounter with Minneapolis police on Memorial Day: Town Talk Diner and Gastropub had already suffered broken windows, water damage, and looting earlier in the week, but when Stotts returned to his business Friday morning, he found it burned to the ground.

‘‘It’s a lot of rubble now,’’ said Stotts, who co-owns Town Talk with his wife and fellow chef, Kacey White. Town Talk had been operating as a restaurant since 1946, when it was, according to a story in City Pages, ‘‘an amenity to workers of the Minneapolis Moline tractor factory, a bustling company employing soldiers returning from the war.’’ The restaurant’s signage, entryway, bar counter, and seats are registered historic landmarks, said Stotts, examples of Streamline Moderne architecture. Or they were registered historic landmarks. Now, they’re history.

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‘‘We’re having a really rough morning,’’ Stotts told The Washington Post when reached by phone. He and White had just taken control of Town Talk Diner a few years ago. They weren’t sure what they would do next.

‘‘The wound is so fresh right now, I can honestly say we haven’t even thought that far,’’ he said.

Much like other businesses around the 3rd Precinct, the one closest to where a white police officer pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck for minutes as the man pleaded for his life, Town Talk was part of the ancillary damage as protests turned violent. Other nearby restaurants were damaged, too, including Gandhi Mahal and El Nuevo Rodeo. According to reports out of Minneapolis, both Floyd and Derek Chauvin, the fired police officer who was charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter Friday in connection with Floyd’s death, worked as bouncers at El Nuevo Rodeo, a nightclub.

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Some have speculated online that El Nuevo Rodeo may have been targeted because of its connection to Chauvin. True or not, the other restaurants appear to be innocent victims of the week-long unrest. In fact, according to his daughter, the owner of Gandhi Mahal stood by the protesters even as his building burned.

‘‘We won’t loose hope though, I am so greatful for our neighbors who did their best to stand guard and protect Gandhi Mahal, Youre efforts won’t go unrecognized. Don’t worry about us, we will rebuild and we will recover,’’ owner Ruhel Islam’s daughter, Hafsa, wrote in a Facebook post. ‘‘As I am sitting next to my dad watching the news, I hear him say on the phone: ‘let my building burn, justice needs to be served, put those officers in jail.’”

Restaurants are among the dozens of businesses in the Twin Cities to suffer damage after Floyd’s death. Protests continued all week, leading to the damage or destruction of banks, liquor stores, jewelry shops, hair salons, and more.

The restaurant industry, of course, was already vulnerable in Minneapolis, St. Paul, and elsewhere. They had already been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. Governor Tim Walz, a Democrat, had given the green light for the state’s restaurants to open for outdoor dining on June 1. At the time of the protests, Town Talk was still limited to takeout and delivery, Stotts said.

Earlier in the week, Stotts and White indicated they might be able to survive the initial damage from protesters. They posted photos on the restaurant’s Facebook page, with the message: ‘‘We have no words, Godspeed, Minneapolis.’’

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On Friday, when Stotts and White reviewed what was left of their restaurant, they knew they wouldn’t be reopening soon. ‘‘Everybody’s looking forward to having diners back in their restaurants. Of course, we were looking forward to that,’’ Stotts said. ‘‘In whatever capacity the governor was going to allow, we were willing to explore. Sadly, now that’s not an option.’’

On Thursday, Stotts told the Star Tribune that he ‘‘protested on the first night when it rained, and the protesting was very calm. Wednesday didn’t go that route, unfortunately.’’

‘‘I, as much as anybody, understand the need for the protest that was happening, and I, as much as anybody, understand the degree of anger and the degree of frustration and everything that was happening — because I was angry and I was frustrated with it, too. I just don’t understand how that spills over into buildings. How does the rage turn to our small little community businesses?’’ Stotts said in his interview.