Racial Unrest Spills Into Fairbanks Businesses
Emotional tension from anti-racism rallies and marches has spilled over into the business sector in Fairbanks. Employees from two businesses were involved in incidents of intolerance.
A woman driving from a Saturday rally in downtown Fairbanks was honking and waving at participants when a man outside a restaurant shouted “White Power” to her. The woman confronted him and confirmed he was an employee at the restaurant.
She posted the incident to social media, which generated phone calls to the restaurant and online posts of angry customers. Jeff Oden, who with his wife Jennifer Oden has owned Big Daddy’s Barbeque for five years, said he heard several versions of events.
“An employee with some other people walking around downtown, and yelling out what they did – I don’t even want to repeat it – that’s not behavior we tolerate.”
They immediately fired the employee, who Oden says had only worked there two weeks, and they sent others home while they sorted through information. On Monday, they posted an apology on the restaurant’s social media accounts.
“We are deeply hurt and infuriated at the events that occurred on our property yesterday. The behavior by all involved is atrocious and not at all who Big Daddy’s is as a business or family. We can assure you that any employees that were involved have been terminated. In times like these we come together and lift each other up, not tear each other down. We appreciate those that brought this to our attention and those that continue to support us.”
“I know there are some folks that are still upset, and rightfully so. But like I said, I apologize to Fairbanks. I didn’t say it, but my name is on that building.”
The restaurant has hosted partisan fundraising events, but Oden says his politics are not part of the business. He wants people to understand why they fired the employee, because he doesn’t want to lose customers over it.
“Because we don’t want that to be part of our business. That’s not who we are.”
Like other restaurants, the pandemic has hit them hard hit financially.
In a separate incident, another food vendor, Fairbanks Espresso, has attracted supporters to sit at the business to support owner Caitlin Gonzalez. On Monday morning, Gonzalez served a damaged burrito to a regular customer of the coffee hut, who is a supporter of Donald Trump.
In the foil wrapping, she wrote:
“I saw your MAGA hat and sign.
Don’t come here again.”
The customer shared a photo of the message and his ink-stained, inedible burrito, and by Monday evening, Gonzalez had received threats against her business. Supporter Rina Kowalski said she saw threats on social media.
“Seeing online that people wanted to burn the hut down in the middle of the night, so some of us came out here at 2 a.m.”
Afraid of reprisals, the owners posted a live video feed during the entire business day on Monday.
Gonzalez posted on social media that she interprets actions by Trump supporters as universally bigotted.
By Tuesday, other customers and supporters had occupied the adjacent lot with cars, protest signs, potluck food and a rain shelter. Kowalski says supporters intend to stay until there are no worries about violence.
“Also been people driving by here yelling threats. One man stopped in the middle of the road, and he said he had a bullet for each of us.”
Fairbanks Espresso’s owner, Gonzalez, did not respond to interview requests in time for this story.