“Stop eating dogs” was scrawled on the winter vestibule of Michelin-starred Korean restaurant Jeju Noodle Bar over the weekend — an incident that chef and owner Douglas Kim is calling a hate crime.
The racist message, written with a Sharpie marker across a plastic window pane, showed up late in the day on Friday, April 10, Kim alleges, while nobody was in the West Village restaurant. A customer who lives nearby saw the graffiti later and sent a photo to Kim, and then attempted to scrub the graffiti off of the vestibule. Kim fully cleaned the vestibule the following day.
“I’m so sorry to have to relay this message and even more sorry that someone was horrible enough to do that,” the customer said in an Instagram direct message to Kim describing the incident. Anti-Asian harassment has been on the rise across the state amid the novel coronavirus pandemic — in NYC alone, the city’s hate crime task force has investigated 23 cases since the beginning of April, according to a CityLab report, compared to four cases over the same time period last year.
Though only a small number of people across several Asian countries eat dog, Asian Americans have long been treated as a monolith, and dehumanizing comments around eating foods not commonly found in Western diets are a common racist trope. Such commentary has gained more steam as the origin of the COVID-19 crisis has been speculatively linked to a wet market in Wuhan, China.
Jeju Noodle Bar has been closed since March 16, when the city-mandated ban on dining-in at restaurants and bars went into effect. Kim hasn’t been offering delivery from his shop — one of the only ways that restaurants can continue to operate during the shutdown — in part because his staff has felt unsafe commuting to work on public transportation due to fear over anti-Asian harassment, Kim tells Eater.
Kim did not report the incident to the police because he wasn’t convinced what, if any, action would be taken to resolve the situation. “How are they going to find that person?” Kim says. “How seriously are they going to take it?”
The chef decided to take action in a different way, however. Over the weekend, Kim posted the customer’s photo of the graffiti on Jeju’s Instagram account, alongside a caption describing the alleged hate crime. “We just wanted to let people know what happened,” Kim tells Eater. “I wanted to make sure people understand [the harassment that is] going on.”
Almost instantly, followers started to like, repost, and comment on the photo in an overwhelming show of support for Kim and the restaurant. While he was almost “expecting” the incident to occur given the harassment that NYC’s Asian American community has endured since the beginning of the new coronavirus crisis, Kim says it was surprising and encouraging to see others get angry on the restaurant’s behalf.
“It’s good that people still care,” Kim says.
Asian restaurants in the city have been reporting upticks in vandalism and violence directed at their shops and staff while misinformation spreads about the global pandemic. East Village restaurants like Hunan Slurp and Gem Bing Shop have reported attempted robberies and defaced property at their locations, in part blaming President Donald Trump’s misguided reference to COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus.”
New York’s attorney general Letitia James launched a hotline on Monday, March 23 for residents to report hate crimes and discrimination reports of anti-Asian harassment grows.
The harassment continues to occur despite the fact that many of the initial coronavirus cases in the city did not come from any Asian countries. A recent report in the New York Times indicated that most New York cases of the novel coronavirus came from travelers entering the city from Europe, not China or any other Asian countries.
“What are people thinking?” Kim says of those who have been harassing Asian Americans in New York. “What kind of education do they get?”