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Monday, July 13, 2020

Is a restaurant owner’s race relevant?

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I recently came across a video promoting a website that features only local black-owned restaurants, https://www.shreveport-bossier.org/restaurants/black-restaurants/.

The list is being promoted by the tourist bureau, which is funded by hotel occupancy taxes. The restaurants have nothing in common other than the race of the owners. Color me surprised, because I thought this would be considered racism of the highest order in these days of pleas for equality, integration and diversity. This is especially so when endorsed, funded and hosted by the Shreveport/Bossier Convention and Visitors Bureau, a publicly tax-funded organization.

Having managed Don’s Seafood and Steakhouse for many years, this article has me thinking of the many locally-owned restaurants that are now gone but should never be forgotten. Some of those restaurants included Smith’s Cross Lake, Freeman and Harris, Brocato’s, Sansone’s, The Cambridge Club, Olive Street Bistro, Shorty Leonard’s, Cobb’s BBQ, Kon Tiki, Bamboo, Nanking’s, Jue’s, T.S. Station, Steak and Lobster, Triple X, Oxford Street, Los Amigos, Don Carlos, Murrells, George’s, Pedro’s, Greco’s, Walker’s, Hayne’s Grill, Silver Moon BBQ, Monsour’s, Danbi’s, Dominic’s, The Spaghetti Store, Lowell’s, Tic Tok, Pete Harris Café, Abe’s, Weisman’s, The Hushpuppy, Pizza King, Bayer’s, Earthereal, Gumbeaux’s and The Village, to name but a few.

I worked closely with the hard-working owners and suppliers for the collective viability of our industry. Individually, we strove to provide the best food and service to our customers, never believing that the owner’s race was a relevant consideration. I believe we always thought of marketing our establishments first by category, then by location in order to best serve the customer. Ethnicity of the cuisine was a factor, as was cleanliness and safety. But, race of the owner never was.

So, this article has raised my curiosity. I would like for the tourist bureau to take the next step! How about creating websites that show which particular restaurants are owned by Caucasians? You should also do one for Asians and Latinos. But, don’t stop there ... You should create a website for restaurants owned by males and one for those owned by females. While you’re at it, obviously there should be a website that only includes those restaurants owned by anyone from the LGBTQ+ community.

I guess I’m a little old-fashioned because I would have never considered that diners cared about the racial identity of the owner. However, I’m willing to change with the times if the intersectionality of business owners is a determining factor for patrons, particularly tourists. Or we could just realize that promotion based solely on race is … well … racist.

Johnny Wessler lives in Shreveport, La. He was executive VP and general manager of Don's Seafood and Steakhouse and was twice named NW Louisiana Restaurateur of the Year. He has served as president of the Northwest Chapter of The Louisiana Restaurant Association and chairman of the board for the Shreveport/Bossier Convention and Visitors Bureau. He loves the area and people of Shreveport/Bossier and wants to see it live up to its potential.


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