Just a year ago, Summerhill BK in Crown Heights was being decried as “racist” after the white owner bragged about “Instagrammable” fake bullet holes in the restaurant and bar. People called for a boycott. But now, it’s apparently a huge hot spot in the neighborhood — packed every weekend primarily with black clientele.
In the newest episode of radio docuseries This American Life, producer and Crown Heights resident Neil Drumming takes a look at how that happened. Beleaguered owner Becca Brennan wouldn’t talk, but the man responsible for bringing in the crowds did: Wallahi Oyo, a 27-year-old black man who’s the executive chef and became an owner shortly after the controversy started.
Oyo pitched his sandwich pop-up to Brennan before protests started, and after the outcry happened, the Crown Heights native — who’d been working in the neighborhood for years and long wanted his own place — stayed on at Summerhill.
The restaurant, located at 673 Nostrand Ave. at St. Marks Avenue, remains a “boozy sandwich shop,” and Oyo has “become the face,” Drumming says. Following the call for a boycott, the chef reached out to friends to support the restaurant. The wall with fake bullet holes has been painted over, and DJ nights are common. People have come in droves, and now, Summerhill’s Instagram page is flush with photos of mostly black patrons, some of the visitors aware of Brennan’s history and others not.
Still, that doesn’t mean all is perfect with Summerhill now. The change in business is heavy with politics, as Drumming finds. Brennan remains an owner and continues to profit. One of the women who helped organize the protests last year, Justine Stephens, won’t be going in — saying that Brennan’s “using [Oyo’s] blackness, in a way, to build this business and make it cool again, because of her mistake.”
- Hole in the Wall [This American Life]