Food & Drink

Restaurant apologizes after a customer in blackface caused a Halloween contest uproar

A mural painted at Angie’s Restaurant in Garner.
A mural painted at Angie’s Restaurant in Garner. jalexander@newsobserver.com

A Garner restaurant is apologizing after posting photos on social media of a Halloween costume contest in which a white customer wore blackface.

It happened last Thursday as part of an all-day costume contest at Angie’s Restaurant in Garner. The diner appears to have dressed as Bob Marley, with fake dreadlocks hanging out of a baggy, red, green and yellow hat. Her face was entirely darkened with makeup.

The owners of Angie’s Restaurant, Angie Mikus and Jimmy Yeargan, condemned and apologized for the incident. The restaurant took no action while the customer was in the restaurant.

When photos of the contest, including the woman in blackface, were posted Friday on the restaurant’s Facebook page, a backlash quickly ensued. Ultimately, the racist costume ended up canceling the restaurant’s contest, for which the prize was a free meal every day for the rest of 2019. The restaurant removed the photo album from its Facebook page, though screenshots of the diner in blackface were shared elsewhere.

On Saturday, Mikus posted an apology to the Angie’s Restaurant Facebook page.

“I first would like to say how sorry and truly heartbroken I am for the hurt I caused,” the post reads. “We have established clearer guidelines for what we will allow in our establishment and the offending patron has been informed of our zero tolerance for hate speech of any kind. Furthermore, myself as well as my entire staff will be enrolled in education/sensitivity training to insure such atrocities never occur on our watch again. I have no way of knowing how far reaching this awfulness may be but I invite anyone who would like to discuss this matter with me to do so in person or over the phone.”

‘Really disappointing’

In a phone interview Tuesday, Mikus said the diner was not a regular at the restaurant, but had been in multiple times and was known to the staff, though not socially.

She is not an employee of Angie’s herself, as had been suggested online. Mikus acknowledged seeing the costume on Halloween, but not recognizing it as inappropriate, saying that the restaurant was busy and that she was unaware of blackface and its history.

“I don’t know anything about blackface,” Mikus said. “I wasn’t brought up that way. ... The whole situation was really disappointing. I don’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable and less than. I love every single person who comes in my restaurant.”

After the online backlash, Mikus said she researched blackface and was upset by its racist tradition in the United States.

“I was mortified,” she said. “I wasn’t aware of it. I felt horrible, I was sick. I don’t want anyone having to second guess who I am. I was concerned about losing people I love dearly. This (restaurant) is my life.”

Angie’s Restaurant opened in Garner in 2011, serving a Southern style breakfast and lunch. On Tuesday when a reporter called the restaurant, the clanging plates of the lunch rush could be heard in the background. Mikus said the restaurant has remained busy after the Halloween incident.

Blackface incidents in the past year

The past year has featured numerous high-profile news stories involving blackface. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam faced calls for his resignation after his medical school yearbook surfaced, including someone in blackface on his personal page. The Democratic governor denies he is the person in blackface.

In the midst of that scandal, a UNC Chapel Hill yearbook from 1979 made the news, showing racist photos from a fraternity of brothers in Ku Klux Klan robes and others in blackface.

Recently, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apologized for photos of himself in brownface makeup from a 2001 “Arabian Nights” party.

And a little more than one year ago, Megyn Kelly’s NBC morning show was canceled in the wake of her comments questioning whether Halloween costumes with blackface were racist.

This was the second time Angie’s Restaurant has held a Halloween costume contest and the owners doubt there will be a third. Yeargan and Mikus said they are in the process of scheduling sensitivity training for themselves and the restaurant’s employees.

“The reason this is so awful is you have a demographic of the population that’s been marginalized for centuries because of the color of their skin and another group, changing the color of their skin for entertainment,” Yeargan said.

“(The training) is not about blackface in general. It’s about insensitivity. It’s to raise awareness to the fact that you don’t know what you don’t know is not an excuse. We want to be proactive. It’s not a big to-do. We just want to be aware and for this to be a place of empathy for everyone.”

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Drew Jackson writes about restaurants and dining for The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun, covering the food scene in the Triangle and North Carolina.
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