Mozzaplex, Petit Trois and other restaurants hit with looting, vandalism during protests
Like so many things since mid-March, it wasn’t supposed to go this way. On the first full day that dine-in service was allowed to resume in Los Angeles, a citywide curfew was declared as violence broke out in several neighborhoods.
Protests against the killing by police of George Floyd in Minneapolis were met with rubber bullets and tear gas from the LAPD; rioting and looting ensued. Newly reopened restaurants were forced to hurriedly shut their doors in the middle of dinner, and others abandoned their fledgling takeout businesses for the day.
On Saturday night, the windows of Pizzeria Mozza were tagged with red spray paint and the doors to Mozza2Go and Chi Spacca broken down; looters stole computers and wine from the Nancy Silverton restaurants, according to her partner, Michael Krikorian, who drove to the restaurant complex around 10 p.m. “expecting some graffiti.”
“I yelled at them; I got them out of there,” he said in a phone interview from inside Osteria Mozza at 2:30 a.m. Sunday. Krikorian said MelroseMac next door had also been broken into and was in the process of being looted when he arrived, with drivers in luxury cars pulling up to the store and peeling off with electronics.
At least two separate fires broke out at the multi-unit complex at the corner of Melrose and Highland avenues: a small one inside Mozza2Go, which Krikorian said left a table and some books charred, and another one at MelroseMac. It was not immediately clear what the extent of the damage was to the retailer, but television footage that aired shortly after midnight showed smoke billowing out of the building and a row of fire trucks on Melrose Avenue as Krikorian paced on the sidewalk, a red bandana covering the bottom half of his face.
Across the street at the same intersection, chef Ludo Lefebvre’s restaurants were also vandalized.
“Ludo going there now,” wife and business partner Krissy Lefebvre said Sunday morning via text. “Trois Mec glass shot up. They were able to get into Petit Trois.” Ludo later posted photos of the damage, writing on Instagram: “It could have been worse for us... broken glass and some mess inside, but for the most part just a shock. We must all protest for George Floyd and the rights of all black Americans. But we need to stand together against the violence and destruction of our communities.”
Other Los Angeles restaurants including Baco Mercat, Bar Ama, Terroni, Petite Peso, Standing’s Butchery and Ronan were also vandalized or looted. Still, the overwhelming response from owners — on signs plastered on storefronts or messages posted to social media — was sympathetic to the spirit of the protests.
We had employees who were like we’ll stay here; we’ll defend the place and we were like no, no, no, go home. We did put up signs that said: “We stand with you, black lives matter.”
— Caitlin Cutler, co-owner of Ronan
Guerrilla Tacos suspended takeout early on Saturday and said it would remain closed “until Monday at the earliest.” “We are POC and women owned and we could fill days telling stories about the failure of our system,” the Arts District taqueria said on Instagram. “We are in a state of emergency and it’s not because of the looting or fires it is because black people are dying and no one is being held responsible and it is not changing.”
After two and a half brutal months of shutdown due to the novel coronavirus, and on the day after the county and city did an about-face and suddenly greenlit reopening, the wallop of yet another unknown hit restaurant owners and workers hard.
On Friday night, when protests were centered in downtown, the Italian restaurant Terroni was looted and two restaurants run by Josef Centeno were vandalized; the chef posted photos on Instagram showing shattered glass at Baco Mercat and graffiti covering the windows at nearby Bar Ama.
Chef Ria Dolly Barbosa of Petite Peso, a Filipino restaurant on West 7th Street, posted a photo with the caption, “Our window can be replaced. George Floyd can’t.” In a subsequent post, she said her month-old restaurant would be closed until Tuesday; the image showed her storefront protected by boards with signs that said, “We are a POC owned business” and “Justice 4 Big Floyd.”
By Saturday afternoon, the protests had moved west to the Fairfax District.
“Ronan has so far been tagged for sure with spray paint. But the police line is right out front on Melrose, so we’re hoping that the restaurant is safe,” co-owner Caitlin Cutler said on Saturday evening; the Italian restaurant is on Melrose Avenue near Fairfax. “My priority was just getting everybody out of there.”
The restaurant didn’t have boards for its windows but “we pulled down every blind that we had,” she said.
Cutler said a third of the restaurant’s takeout sales during quarantine have come on Saturday, so closing for the night was “not an easy decision to make.”
“We had employees who were like we’ll stay here; we’ll defend the place and we were like no, no, no, go home,” she said. “We did put up signs that said: ‘We stand with you, black lives matter.’ At the end of the day we do support the protests. We don’t support violent protests, but we support protesting peacefully.”
Nearby on La Brea Avenue, business owners rushed to clear out on Saturday afternoon. Before leaving, employees from Neighborhood coffee shop boarded up its windows and those of Burgers 99 next door. The burger restaurant was recently opened by the family behind Badmaash, which closed both locations of its Indian restaurant — in downtown and on Fairfax Avenue — on Saturday, posting a message on Instagram that said, “Please be safe.”
Dine-in service was short-lived at restaurants that made the effort to restart operations after more than 10 weeks of only being allowed to offer takeout. “This was supposed to be a weekend of openings, and then we saw the closing of a life in Minneapolis,” Mayor Eric Garcetti said.
Canter’s, which reopened its dining room at 6 a.m. on Saturday morning, was forced to close in the middle of dinner to comply with the impending curfew. Earlier in the day, as protests subsumed the area around Fairfax and Melrose avenues, the deli offered bottles of water for people marching by and wrote on Instagram: “Canter’s supports the Black Lives Matter movement.”
Grand Central Market on Sunday morning announced it was closed; one day earlier, it had reopened its dining area and posted a joyful Instagram message that said, “Let the weekend feasts begin!... We’re excited to welcome everyone back to share our city.”
As looters broke into stores in downtown L.A. during demonstrations over George Floyd’s death, a desperate owner begs them not to hit his restaurant.
Despite the imperiled financial situation they find themselves in, some restaurant owners said they were donating to the cause and encouraged customers to do the same.
“We believe in justice for black people and support the protests happening around the country now. Black lives matter,” Go Get Em Tiger said on its Instagram Stories; the coffee shop chain closed its Row DTLA location on Saturday after entry gates to the retail complex were shut.
“Today we made contributions to a few organizations doing critical work in these times,” Go Get Em Tiger continued. “On Sunday, bring proof of a donation over $20 to an organization dedicated to justice for black Americans and your coffee is on us.”
With new uncertainties to grapple with, restaurants owners are monitoring developments and adjusting once again. On Sunday afternoon, Centeno said Bar Ama had been cleaned up and would tentatively reopen on Tuesday; meanwhile Silverton was making plans to move her takeout operations from Mozza2Go to the largely unscathed Pizzeria Mozza space around the corner, with business hopefully up and running again on Wednesday. Ronan announced it would be closed until further notice.
Apollonia’s Pizzeria on Wilshire Boulevard said it would open for takeout at 5 p.m. Sunday, with a smaller menu and a “TBD” closing time.
“We had to drop everything last night and walk out in the middle of service,” pizzeria owner Justin De Leon wrote on Instagram. “Life changes and we all have to adapt and have compassion.“
Times staff writer Jenn Harris contributed to this report.
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