Blufin Sushi owner denies racial discrimination claims
Blufin’s attorney: Video footage proves false claims made by three African-American women
The owner of a Grosse Pointe restaurant embroiled in controversy after three African-American women said they were asked to leave Saturday night spoke out Wednesday, denying claims of racism or unfair treatment.
Blufin Sushi owner Joel Radu and his lawyer showed surveillance video footage to the media during an afternoon news conference at Pointe Electronics in Grosse Pointe.
“There was no racism, there was no assault at the Blufin Sushi bar on Saturday night or anytime,” said Radu’s lawyer, David Draper.
The situation occurred Saturday evening at the restaurant on Mack. The three women, TaNisha Prater, 40, Kim Lloyd Hudson, 43, and Adrienne Savage, 45 — all friends and Grosse Pointe Park residents — were dining at the bar when they claim the general manager asked them to leave. Alleging it was racially motivated, Prater documented what happened on a 16-minute Facebook Live video, which shows a Grosse Pointe Farms police officer arriving on the scene and requesting identification from the women.
Radu said he didn’t want to comment on the incident until he reviewed the video footage from the restaurant’s 16 cameras, which he first saw Tuesday night because it took two days to get the footage off the DVR.
He took one interview Monday night to “apologize to every diner who was in the restaurant or anyone that felt that their evening wasn’t a pleasant experience,” he told The Detroit News before Wednesday’s news conference.
The roughly 30 minutes of footage shows all 10 tables full, with at least four customers waiting to be seated. Draper said more customers were waiting on the app Waitlist Me. The video also shows several African-Americans dining at the restaurant.
The footage disputes the women’s claims that there were open tables when they were allegedly asked to leave and that they were the only African-Americans in the establishment at the time. The video shows an African-American man and woman dining directly behind them.
The video also shows that the women cashed out around 8:30 p.m. — when general manager Katherine Fiscelli came over, and Radu said she asked them to move to a cocktail area with a beam and stools against a wall.
“They weren’t asked to leave, they were asked to relocate,” Radu said.
In an interview Wednesday afternoon, Prater said she did not have an opportunity to view the video, but affirmed they were asked to move to another area.
“Why as patrons currently patronizing the bar area, with no time limit at the bar, why would we leave to go to a holding area that’s meant to wait until tables become available?” she said.
Draper said the women sat at the bar for over two hours, and a statement on the menu reads “Due to limited space: We respectfully request you relinquish your table after one hour and forty-five minutes.”
The restaurant has 10 tables, which seats 60 customers.
“Our restaurant was full. Every space in there is a place for guests to eat. So we had guests waiting,” Radu says. “... The area needs to be vacated if you’re done.”
“Of the 60 people in the restaurant that night, besides these ladies, four other groups were African-American,” Draper said. “They were not asked to leave because they were mid-meal, mid-drink.”
The video shows one of the trio leaving as two others ask to talk to the owner. The women then all leave for about 10-15 minutes — a time which Prater told The Detroit News they spent discussing whether or not to document the incident.
The video then shows Prater returning inside the restaurant, asking for the manager. At this point, she starts recording on Facebook Live.
Prater filed an assault charge against Fiscelli on Sunday, which alleges that she lunged at her, trying to grab her phone and the business card Fiscelli provided.
The video surveillance does not capture any altercation. It does show Prater and Fiscelli stepping outside, at which point Fiscelli is on the phone with the police. The sushi chef also left her station and stepped outside, concerned about Fiscelli’s safety, Draper said.
“There’s never any physical contact,” Draper said, adding that the video shows their shadows, and they don’t cross.
Radu said Blufin closed on Sunday due to problems with the sales system. The restaurant was open Monday and Tuesday but closed Wednesday at the request of Grosse Pointe Farms police. Draper said they were concerned about safety issues due to a protest the three women held outside Blufin Wednesday evening.
At least 40 people turned out for the protest from 5-7 p.m., some chanting “Hey, hey, ho, ho. GP racists have got to go” and “No justice. No peace.” Others carried signs, some saying “Take racism off the menu.”
JeDonna Dinges, a Grosse Pointe Park resident said she came out in support of Prater.
"I was outraged," Dinges said about the incident. "... People should be able to enjoy dinner and drinks and particularly in your own community."
Dinges said that she hasn't seen the video that Blufin released Wednesday, but it wouldn't change her opinion.
"A video showing that there were more black people in the restaurant. So what?" Dinges said. "That doesn't mean what they're saying is invalidated. That doesn't invalidate what they're saying at all ... Black folks, we know when we're being targeted. This is not something new to us."
Radu said Fiscelli, his 23-year-old niece who started three months ago, will “absolutely” remain employed at the restaurant.
Draper said the situation has negatively affected the staff of 30, which includes African-Americans, Asians and Filipinos.
“There’s a lot of working folks who are not working today, who are not making tips, who are not making minimum wage because of this protest,” he said. “And that includes some black workers who are not going to get a paycheck today.”
He added that the restaurant has lost revenue over the situation, and “nothing happened that night that warranted this sort of response.”
“We want to serve as many people as we can at this restaurant every single night, and we want everybody to have a good experience and that’s the shame here,” Draper said. “Obviously, they didn’t have a great experience.”
Asked after the news conference if Blufin will be open Thursday, Radu responded, “I hope so.”
Detroit News Staff Writer Candice Williams contributed to this report.