Morris restaurant closing due to alleged racism

Video: Diner owner closing shop after enduring discrimination and she’s not the 1st one to do so. Francis Silvaggio reports. 

A small-town Manitoba restaurant is closing again – this time due to racism, not homophobia, the new owner says.

Thea Morris was shaken by a racist message she was sent online that referred to the violent white supremacist organization KKK.

“I just don’t feel safe,” she said. “I would not be in the restaurant alone at night.”

Morris opened Thea’s Diner on June 26 in Morris, Man., a town of about 1,800 people about 60 kilometres south of Winnipeg.

The restaurant is in the building that housed Pots N Hands, which closed in April due to homophobia in Morris, its gay owners said.

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The racist message the restaurateur received was a response to a help-wanted ad she placed on the online classified site Kijiji.

“You guys still chasing colours out of your towns out there? I believe the KKK has a chapter in South Dakota you should join!” the email said.

Morris, who emigrated to Canada from Jamaica as a teen, is black, and Thea’s Diner serves Caribbean food.

She reported the racist email to the RCMP, but they couldn’t trace it to its source. They advised her to report it to Kijiji as a hate crime, which she did.

Morris said another disturbing incident followed.

“We came outside and found a dead hawk on one of my staff’s car windshield,” she said.

Groups of well-dressed people have also been coming to her restaurant but getting up and leaving when the server is getting their beverages, she said.

“It’s like a cloud comes over the restaurant when they leave,” she said, and other people who are in the restaurant don’t return.

The restaurant’s previous tenant was Pots N Hands, which also closed after fewer than six months in business.

The owners of Pots N Hands, two gay men, said they closed the restaurant on April 13 because they no longer wanted to put up with the homophobic slurs they heard both in town and in their restaurant.

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The town of Morris also made headlines in January after the now-defunct Morris Mirror newspaper printed a column that gave a “thumbs down to Canada’s native community” who “have become terrorists in their own country. Indians want it all but corruption and laziness prevent them from working for it.”

The only overt expression of racism Thea Morris has heard was from an elderly Morris man who told her “the reason people are not coming in my restaurant is because of my colour,” she said.

Morris lives in Winnipeg and commutes to her restaurant and now plans to open a restaurant in Winnipeg.

“One thing I learned from this is I can do it,” she said. “I’ve been in this field since I was 18 years old.”

She’s tried to rise above the racism but it’s hard to fight when you don’t know who you’re up against, she said.

The only way she’d reconsider closing her restaurant is if things change before the end of December, when her lease expires.

“If these people stop doing what they’re doing to destroy the restaurant,” she said. “I just want to know I’m having a fair fight.”

Other people in Morris also need to show their support, she said, explaining she knew what happened to Pots N Hands but the support expressed by townspeople as the restaurant was closing made her think she had a chance in the community.

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“The majority of Morris are good people,” she said.

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