Santa Cruz’s O’mei Chinese food restaurant reopens after political firestorm

SANTA CRUZ — The embattled owner of Chinese cuisine restaurant O’mei reopened his business on Tuesday after a month-and-a-half closure, with plans to transfer his ownership.

Roger Grigsby, whose business has been a staple on the Westside of Santa Cruz for 38 years, came under public backlash in late August for his political contributions in 2016 and continues to support him.

“I don’t know if you’ve heard that old adage, but dogs can bark, but the caravan goes on,” Grigsby said, winking at the vitriolic comments made about him on the online review site. Yelp line.

Grigsby, who was semi-retired from O’mei’s leadership for about a decade, made donations totaling $500, according to publicly available databases, to the US Senate’s unsuccessful 2016 U.S. Senate campaign. former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke of Louisiana. Grigsby decided to close the business, he said in August, after learning of accusations on the internet or of racism and bigotry, combined with the related resignation of all of his service staff. Online commentators have also pledged to boycott his business, efforts that Grigsby called “political terrorist attacks”.

Reached on Friday, Grigsby, 68, said he was in the process of transferring ownership of O’mei to longtime chef and manager Karl Cook, a 32-year-old employee who is “like a son, almost.” Picking Cook as his successor was a long-standing plan, Grigsby said, carried out “since the shitty birds kind of cast a pallor on my name because of their third-hand information on David Duke.”

“It would be really interesting if these people really listened to David Duke himself, rather than listening to what other people were saying about him,” Grigsby said of Duke, who led the KKK from 1974 to 1978.

The O’mei dining experience, “for better or worse,” should remain the same under Cook’s leadership, Grigsby said.

Separately, the loss of servers is “work in progress,” Grigsby said. Restaurant operations will be limited to the hours of 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday as business picks up, Cook said, though he expects lunch hours to return. It’s unclear what the restaurant’s name will be in the future, Cook said. In the first public fallout, Cook said he received personally threatening phone calls, but reopening O’mei has received positive customer support since reopening this week.

Cook, 51, said he loved what he did and “grew up” with his colleagues at O’mei. He and other workers “have nothing to do with closing O’mei,” Cook said, describing himself as “not a political person.”

“I have no personal problem with Roger. He hasn’t demonstrated to me that he hates people because of their color. I was never asked to hire based on anything like that,” Cook said. “To me, it’s not the story – the story is the collateral damage, it’s the cooks.”

At least one community member, Mark Whittington, however, was unhappy with the restaurant’s reopening.

“I find it hard to believe that this guy is reopening after the story presented to the public,” Whittington wrote in an email to the Sentinel.

In addition to dealing with public backlash over Grigsby’s support of Duke, O’mei faced distinct uncertainty shortly after the boycott was launched when Grigsby and employees discovered that restaurant owner 2316 Mission St. had passed away, temporarily leaving the company’s future. in limbo. Once that issue was resolved and Grigsby gained some confidence in the restaurant’s long-term future, he said it was time to reopen.

“There is more than that. We also decided to open because of our employees, kitchen staff, kitchen staff,” Grigsby said. “The restaurant is not finished yet, but it is in the process, as we speak, to be transferred to him (Cook).”

Grigsby, who studied Chinese at UC Santa Cruz and lived in Taiwan for two years, opened O’mei on the university’s campus in 1979, then a second location at its current, single site in a center Mission Street mall.

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