A family who was told to leave Captain Steve’s Family Seafood Restaurant without being served isn’t buying the restaurant’s account of what happened. The restaurant isn’t buying the family’s claim that racism had something to do with it.
Both the family members of a dining party and the restaurant agree that on June 1 the hostess was told 16 diners would be there, then the number rose to 18. Both agree restaurant staff told the party they couldn‘t be seated until everyone was there, per policy as noted on the large sign above the host counter.
The family, who are African-American, say staff members were rude after setting up for 18 guests and the number of diners went back to 16. Family members say it was the restaurant’s unwillingness to seat them that led to the commotion, eventually resulting in owner Steve Mantekas asking the party to leave.
“We’re absolutely mad because we were treated wrongly,” said diner Sylvia Blair, whose husband Carl was there to celebrate his 72nd birthday.
Mantekas said problems started when his staff enforced its seating policy.
“The party was not complete at the time,” he said. “We told the group they could not be sat until the party is complete. They agreed they wanted to sit down. We explained to them once they sat down, the other group would not be able to join them at the time.”
At that point, Mantekas said, the party became unruly. Eventually, a police officer escorted them out, Mantekas said.
“It got real loud in here. Screaming, pointing fingers and everything else,” he said. “I asked the group to leave. As they were leaving they were saying a lot of cuss words. Screaming to the top of their lungs, saying their money is green like ours.”
The family says race played a role. Carla Blair, daughter of Sylvia and Carl, said a staff member said “we don’t want y’all black money. That’s when I said, ‘Our money (is) green, just like yours.’”
Carla Blair admits she became loud and her husband had to hold her back. But she says restaurant staff instigated the situation by counting party members and yelling at them.
Mantekas says video of the incident shows there was no comment made about “black money.”
Mantekas said the party was asked to leave because they were disrupting business.
“We see no color,” Mantekas said. “We’re here to take care of all of our customers, and it shows. We’ve been part of this community for over 23 years. It speaks for itself. The reason I asked them to leave is because they were disturbing the 300-plus customers we had here that night.”
Civil rights activist John Barnett and family members of the dining party, calling themselves Fort Mill 16, gathered Friday morning in front of the restaurant, a day after surveillance video was posted on the restaurant’s social media. They say the video is incomplete.
“They will pull out what benefits them,” Barnett said.
Barnett plans to show a longer version of the video, supplied by the restaurant, at rallies Saturday in Rock Hill and Sunday at another Captain Steve’s restaurant location in Harrisburg, N.C.
“One day we won’t have to fight about skin color,” Barnett said. “Won’t have to fight about race. I don’t know what great day that will be ... but I pray one day we get these race issues together.”
The same day, waitress DeAndrea Smith was fired, she said. Smith, an African-American waitress who had been hired a few weeks prior, reached out to Barnett and said there are “plenty of times” parties are seated without everyone there.
Smith said she heard other servers say “black people don’t tip.” Smith said she was fired after questioning whether other wait staff were trying to avoid serving black guests in their sections.
Mantekas said Smith trained for two weeks and was late for her shift the day before she was fired and that she made racist comments.
“She’s the one that made racist comments, why she was being sat ‘black tables,’” Mantekas said. “So we don’t tolerate (that) here at all.”
More than two hours passed, he said, between the firing and the incident with the dining party.
“It’s got nothing to do with each other,” Mantekas said.
Sylvia Blair said she has been coming to the restaurant for two decades and even bought a T-shirt. She doesn’t know why the most recent encounter was different but believes racism sits at the heart of it.
“It’s not about the 16 people today,” Sylvia Blair said. “It ain’t even about the black dollar, today. It’s about Steve, the owner, saying get out of here and go home. For no reason. We didn’t do anything.”
Mantekas says two decades of service and loyal customers serve as proof his restaurant doesn’t discriminate.
“We are who we are,” he said. “We’re here to serve everybody and have so for a long period of time. We’re going to continue to serve people.”