Charles Stotts, the co-owner of Town Talk Diner and Gastropub, barely slept as he waited for the sun to rise so he could return safely to his Longfellow eatery Thursday morning and assess the damage after a night of violence and looting.
“We got there, and it was so much worse than I could have imagined,” he said.
Several restaurants are located in the area where unrest broke out Wednesday night after earlier protests over the death of George Floyd. Owners of Gandhi Mahal, Midori’s Floating World Cafe and El Nuevo Rodeo, which are located at the same corner as Town Talk, about two blocks from the Third Precinct of the police department, were not immediately available for comment Thursday morning.
Town Talk Diner and Gastropub, with its historically landmarked sign, has been closed for on-premise dining since March 17 due to the coronavirus. Stotts was planning to reopen June 1 with sidewalk seating. “Sadly, that’s going to be on hold a little bit,” he said. Already facing setbacks from the pandemic, and now the riots, a “rattled” Stotts said 2020 is shaping up to be the “hardest of the hard.”
He spoke to the Star Tribune about what unfolded at his business last night, and what he saw when he got there this morning.
Q: Can you describe the damage to the restaurant?
A: I’ll be honest, my head is spinning a little bit. It was so much worse than I could have imagined. All our windows are heavily damaged and the sprinkler system is still engaged. So apparently, there must have been enough heat or fire that engaged the sprinkler system. There are several inches of water in my building. The dining room looks like it was hit by a wrecking ball. The bar was heavily looted. Lots of broken bottles, broken glass, and in our basement, the maintenance guy said it’s more than waist deep. There’s a lot to clean up, and there’s a lot to put back together.
We called our insurance person, and he reassured me we have the right insurance in place. It’ll be a long, hard process to replace, but replacement will be the goal.
Q: Will you rebuild in the same location? And how long will it take?
A: In four hours, I can’t say I’ve come up with those kind of answers. Just, my heart hurts for Longfellow. I’m sure that’s where my head will be the next day or two.
Will it be exactly there, with everything? I don’t know. Longfellow is a wonderful little neighborhood and they’ve been so amazingly supportive, but there’s so much damage and devastation in that area, it’s going to be a couple of years before that area is back to what would feel like normalcy.
Q: This has already been a tough year for your business, with the coronavirus pandemic closing the dining room.
A: It’s not like I have something I can compare it to. But if there’s one thing I know that’s going to happen it’s that people are going to eat. And people will always appreciate a good, well-thought meal, and hopefully they consider me and Kacey [White, the restaurant’s co-owner, and Stotts’ wife] one of the people that they want to feed them when this is all said and done.
Q: Did you attend any of the protests near the restaurant?
A: We protested on the first night when it rained, and the protesting was very calm. Wednesday didn’t go that route, unfortunately. My prayers are with Longfellow tonight, because I don’t know what happens on night three.
Q: Is there anything you would like to say to the people who damaged the restaurant?
A: I, as much as anybody, understand the need for the protest that was happening, and I, as much as anybody, understand the degree of anger and the degree of frustration and everything that was happening — because I was angry and I was frustrated with it, too. I just don’t understand how that spills over into buildings. How does the rage turn to our small little community businesses? I won’t ever understand. But I certainly understand the rest of it. I understand that terrible feeling, because we’re all sickened by it. I don’t want to say anything to them. I just hope they heal as well as any of us can heal.