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Racist Facebook Posts Attributed to Detroit Restaurant Owner Spark Outrage

The owner of Hot Taco and Town Pump Tavern in Detroit is facing controversy for his apparent statements about the novel coronavirus and Black Lives Matter protests

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A screenshot of Hot Taco from Park Avenue looking towards downtown.
Hot Taco is one of two Detroit restaurants owned by Sean Harrington.
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Brenna Houck is a Cities Manager for the Eater network. She previously edited Eater Detroit and reported for Eater. You can follow her on the internet at @brennahouck.

The owner of Hot Taco and Town Pump Tavern in downtown Detroit is facing criticism for racist online messages and posts.

Tanya Gazdik, an acquaintance of restaurateur Sean Harrington, shared screenshots of messages apparently from Harrington and posts he appeared to make to Facebook last week reacting both to state politicians participating in Black Lives Matter protests during the pandemic and to questions about COVID-19 precautions at his establishments. Gazdik provided those screenshots to Eater, which are posted below. Eater has reached out to Harrington for comment and did not hear back at press time.

In one of the posts attributed to Harrington, he shares a photo of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Mayor Mike Duggan walking beside demonstrators at a rally last week. Harrington’s post describes the “Stay home Stay Safe” order to slow the spread of novel coronavirus as “bullshit” and calls the governor and other politicians hypocrites for marching and not observing social distancing. He then goes on to question the number of deaths from “spring break kids” and “people getting haircuts in Lansing.” He continues: “And I can’t wait to see the death toll in fact I’m hoping for it for the rioters and the a holes that screw with small business owners and employees (sic).” He adds, “A bad flu kills the week (sic) and so many of you bastards love the fact that they stole over three months of our lives for their bullshit political agenda.”

A screenshot of Harrington’s original post with a photo of Gov. Whitmer and Mayor Duggan. Screenshot courtesy of Tanya Gazdik

The novel coronavirus is not the same type of virus as the flu and according to current data is far more deadly than the seasonal flu and about twice as contagious. It has killed more than 100,000 people in three months in the United States and the new cases continue to emerge. In Michigan, more than 5,500 people have died due to the pandemic. The majority of those who died were nursing home residents, black Americans, and people with preexisting conditions; children have also showed signs of a rare condition similar to Kawasaki disease after exposure to novel coronavirus.

Eater has transcribed Harrington’s alleged statements and included screenshots below. Please be warned that they contain racist language.

In response to someone who disagreed with Harrington’s statements in comments on Facebook, Harrington appears to respond, “You ain’t black! Biden is you’re (sic) master, Our you’ll get the whip again. Timmy [referring to the commenter]: Please show me the death toll from the people that got their haircut (sic) in Lansing? Or shut the fuck off.”

Gazdik then messaged Harrington and asked if, when his businesses reopened, Harrington would be complying with state rules and requiring face masks. In response, Harrington appears to write, “is this what they teach you in your slave catching classes? How to catch runaway slaves 101? I couldn’t imagine what it must be like for you going through life with no moral compass and being a complete hypocrite. But I guess that’s normal for you southern Democrats. But maybe around the time she [referring to Whitmer] lets the world re-open? I guess you’ll be dead, or a proven liar I guess I don’t care either way. You can fuck off now. Troll.” Harrington concludes the exchange with a middle finger emoji.

A screenshot of Harrington allegedly writing “You ain’t black. Biden is you’re master” Screenshot courtesy of Tanya Gazdik
A screenshot of Sean Harrington’s private conversation with Tanya Gazdik. Screenshot courtesy of Tanya Gazdik

Gazdik took screenshots of those exchanges and shared them on a forum documenting businesses that follow social distancing in Michigan. Since then, other reports of Harrington’s alleged bad behavior over the years have begun spreading on Facebook receiving hundreds of comments and thousands of shares. Since then, negative comments and one-star reviews have started piling up on social media and Yelp pages connected to Harrington’s restaurants and bars.

Harrington’s original posts have since been taken down. Deadline Detroit was able to reach Harrington. In an interview, in response to the “slave catching” comments directed toward Gazdik, Harrington tells Deadline that he was angry at being attacked by someone who he didn’t know. “She said she had 800 people and she said she was going to destroy me.” He adds, “I don’t know where she got her tactics from, but I think she’s learned them from somewhere.” Harrington claims he and his family members are receiving violent threats.

A screenshot of the original 800 people comment. Screenshot courtesy of Tanya Gazdik

In messages to Eater, Gazdik writes that she met Harrington through a “mutual friend” 15 years ago. “I thought it was cool he was opening restaurants and bars in Detroit and I wanted to support that. But after seeing what he’s posted on social media in the last few days, my opinion of him is forever soured.” Gazdik says she will never give business to Harrington’s establishments again. Gazdik has also clarified that she was not the person who made the “800 people” comment that Harrington referred to and shared a screenshot of a conversation as proof.

This isn’t first time that Harrington has faced criticism. Harrington moved Town Pump Tavern to the former Centaur Bar space in 2019 after selling the previously building to a developer. Harrington was widely criticized for trying to abruptly evict building residents, many of whom were low-income.

Harrington’s comments echo those of Evan Singer, the now former owner of Detroit Popcorn Company, who faced a boycott after suggesting in Facebook comments that protesters deserved “knee’s on there necks.” A previous owner has since reclaimed Detroit Popcorn Company and plans to sell the business to black investors. Holiday Market in Royal Oak is likewise facing criticism for allegedly telling employees to remove Black Lives Matter messaging from their uniforms.

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Clarification: Eater has added a line to this piece clarifying where the “800 people” comment cited by Harrington came from. At no time did she private message Harrington.

Detroit Restaurant Owner Wishes Death On ‘Rioters’ In Social Media Post [Deadline Detroit]
Detroit Popcorn Co. Faces Backlash Over Owner’s Alleged Social Media Posts About Police Brutality Protests [ED]
Holiday Market Faces Criticism for Telling Workers to Remove Black Lives Matter Messages From Uniforms [ED]