What started as a way to get a Crown Heights restaurant that bragged about fake bullet holes to make changes ended with locals calling for an outright boycott of the business.
More than 50 people gathered outside of new sandwich shop and bar Summerhill, located at 673 Nostrand Avenue, on Saturday afternoon to talk about owner Becca Brennan — who made statements this week that locals declared “racist” and “colonialist.” Organizers of the event showed up with a list of things they wanted her to do, such as remove a hole-ridden wall that she falsely claimed came from bullets.
But Brennan did not make her presence known, and for hours, locals decried her tactics for marketing the restaurant, saying that it exploited black suffering and violence. By the end of the event, organizers said they no longer wanted to work with her to help Summerhill fit in the community, a move that elicited chants of “bye Becky,” slang used to describe generic white women.
“Why should it be up to us to police them?” co-organizer Justine Stephens said. “They should be holding themselves accountable.”
Brennan sent a PR person who passed out a statement noting the distressed wall was kept for “the aesthetic” and that she wants to work “to continue healing relationships with my neighbors.”
“I deeply apologize for any offense that my recent comments might have caused,” the statement said. “I did not intend to be insensitive to anyone in the neighborhood, and I am sorry that my words have caused pain. I made light of serious issues and that was wrong.”
But Brennan’s absence suggested to some at the forum that she wasn’t serious about a dialogue. Local Ayanna Prescod, who grew up in Crown Heights, said she also emailed Brennan earlier this week offering to walk her through the neighborhood, but she never got a response. Another resident, Leah Hart, said that showing up is a way to be engaged.
“If her apology is genuine, she should be here,” said Hart.
Still, Summerhill and Brennan had a few supporters at the forum. The windows of the mostly empty restaurant had been opened, and inside, several people could be seen with drinks. Christopher Morris, an 18-year Crown Heights resident who is black, said the forum was “totally shocking to me.” He said from a seat at the restaurant that he frequently sees black staff and black patrons there, as well as young black children doing homework. To him, that is engagement in the community, he said.
“She doesn’t deserve this magnitude of criticism,” Morris said.
Organizers said that they plan to keep showing up outside the bar to talk about issues like gentrification in the future. Hart said that it’s possible to open a new business in the neighborhood in a way that’s respectful, but not without a conversation.
“This is just a blatant disrespect to the community at large, and I’m not just talking about the Crown Heights community, I’m talking about the black community,” she said. “This is bigger than Crown Heights. It has to do with basic human decency.”