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Santa Monica Restaurants React in Aftermath of Police Brutality Protests

In the wake of widespread protests that were met by a militarized police response and followed by extensive looting, local restaurant owners — already beleaguered by a global pandemic — wonder about the future

Two men look at a destroyed Japanese restaurant with shattered glass inside.
Sake House in Santa Monica on Monday morning
Matthew Kang

Protests swept through Santa Monica on Sunday, part of a long weekend of demonstrations that occurred in other areas of greater Los Angeles, including Downtown, Melrose, the Fairfax district, and parts of Beverly Hills. Non-violent protestors squared off against an increasing police presence in front of the Lobster restaurant near the beach, while a few blocks inland, groups of largely unaffiliated looters tore through restaurants, clothing stores, and REI. One restaurant burned and several others were destroyed on Sunday.

The National Guard was mobilized in the beachside city as crowds gathered to vocalize their mourning for George Floyd, who was killed by police in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His murder, along with the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor in her own home in Louisville, Kentucky, and the vigilante killing of Ahmaud Arbery in the past few weeks, have led to nationwide protests. In many cities, the protests have been met with disturbing police retribution, and have spun off into smaller incidents of looting and vandalism.

“It just erupted,” says Wexler’s Deli co-owner Mike Kassar of the vandalism that occurred up and down Santa Monica Boulevard on Sunday night. “There was total mayhem.” restaurant was spared, as noted on its official Instagram, with the hashtag #justiceforgeorgefloyd.

“Basically every food and beverage establishment for ten blocks got trashed,” Kassar said. “People are upset. We all should be upset. It’s terrible. We didn’t want to spark anyone, so we just stood there and protected the business and our families.”

The most visible loss damage occurred at Sake House, a Japanese dinner spot on Santa Monica Boulevard. The restaurant was deeply charred, with dark smoke pulsing from the front on live television on Sunday afternoon as police and fire services were occupied elsewhere.

A burned-out bar and restaurant after a riot.
The charred interior of Sake House
Matthew Kang

Tar & Roses was also heavily damaged. “Everything has been destroyed,” says chef/owner Andrew Kirschner. “All of our light fixtures, all of our mirrors, our countertops, our marble, our tabletops and chairs and dishes. Everything. Every bottle on the wine rack, smashed against the floor.”

The restaurant was just a few years removed from a devastating kitchen fire that knocked it out of commission for months; Kirschner doesn’t know how he’ll recover this time. “It’s certainly deflating,” he says. “I have my moments. I ask myself why even bother? It’s worse than the fire.”

Elsewhere people streamed into the shattered doors of Ye Olde Kings Head, the landmark 46-year-old British pub just a block from the ocean, ransacking the gift shop and doing untold damage to the restaurant and bar areas. D’Amore Pizza and Heroic, the casual Italian restaurant and wine bar, were also hit. Despite the damage, Heroic Italian owner Jeffrey Merrihue opened the restaurant on Monday at 11 a.m. in spite of the city curfew that will force him to cease service at 1 p.m.

“We served 30 people on Saturday, but yesterday the employees fled the restaurant by 4 pm. because they were scared,” said Merrihue. “The protests are being used by the looters,” he continued. The business suffered minor damage and a stolen cash register beyond the broken window and doorway. A sign in taped to the broken window of Heroic read, “open at 11 a.m. F*ck the looters.”

Cameraman interviewing Jeffrey Merrihue, owner of Heroic Italian in Santa Monica, whose windows were broken in the aftermath of the looting.
Jeffrey Merrihue, owner of Heroic Italian in Santa Monica
Matthew Kang

Rumors swirled on Twitter that Bay Cities, the staple market and sandwich stop beloved in Santa Monica, had also been looted, but the restaurant suffered only from some graffiti. General manager Hector Padilla told Eater the restaurant would continue operations this week if permitted.

Decades-old deli Izzy’s owner Izzy Freeman says he spent the whole night carefully watching his security cameras from home. “It was very scary” for he and his staff to be told to vacate by order of the police, Freeman told Eater. He says that while not all businesses impacted will come back, everyone is going to pitch in to try. ”Just like in 1992, they’ll try to come back. They’ll rebuild.” He added, with a sigh: “They sure did a job on Santa Monica.”

On Montana Avenue, Art’s Table and Margo’s, owned by restaurateur Mark Verge had opened dining rooms on the weekend for the first time in two-and-a-half months, but were forced to close early to due to the Santa Monica city curfew. Devine Johnson, recently installed as the executive chef at Margo’s, stood in front of the restaurant until 6 p.m. on Sunday in order to deter people from entering.

Mark Verge, Devine Johnson, and Mike Garcia in front of Margo’s restaurant in Santa Monica
Mark Verge, Devine Johnson, and Mike Garcia in front of Margo’s restaurant in Santa Monica
Matthew Kang

Today, the city of Santa Monica has enacted a 1 p.m. curfew for the central business district and a 4 p.m. curfew citywide. Some business owners are guarding their storefronts with semi-automatic rifles, while the National Guard patrols the streets. The businesses will return; George Floyd will not.

Additional reporting by Matthew Kang

Two people look inside of a broken Sweetgreen as boards go up over the windows.
Recovering at Sweetgreen
Matthew Kang
Workers clean up graffiti from a Jamba Juice in Santa Monica.
Graffiti at a Jamba Juice
Matthew Kang
An old Googie diner with a penguin logo is hiding beneath plywood to protect it from looters.
Layers of plywood at Mel’s Diner
Matthew Kang
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