A Fort Lauderdale restaurant whose owners are suing the city and an allegedly racist inspector for handing down bogus citations was vandalized early Sunday morning, according to an attorney for the owners who believes the incident may constitute a hate crime.
Photographs from the scene show a police officer inspecting a shattered window next to the large red door for which the Las Olas Boulevard restaurant, Red Door Asian Bistro, is named. The owners’ attorney, former Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi, told the Miami Herald the incident took place around 1 a.m.
Pizzi said it’s not yet clear what method was used to damage the window or who committed the act. The restaurant was forced to temporarily shut down a VIP hibachi table near the window, he said.
“I have asked the police to investigate this as an anti-Asian hate crime,” Pizzi said. “This is absolutely not a coincidence. This is clearly somebody trying to send a message to the owner.”
A Fort Lauderdale Police Department spokesman declined to comment on the incident Sunday. An officer in the records department said an incident report was not yet available for release.
The city of Fort Lauderdale did not immediately return a request for comment.
One of the restaurant’s owners, Tony Liu, returned to Florida this weekend after visiting family in China and now fears for his safety, Pizzi said. Liu is a native of China who owns several Asian fusion restaurants, including multiple in the Hamptons and one inside the Trump International Beach Resort in Sunny Isles Beach.
In their $5 million federal lawsuit, which was filed in May and amended in September, Liu and his co-owner, Tony Asta, claim that the city’s former chief mechanical inspector, Robert Gonzalez, made repeated anti-Asian comments about Liu, including the use of a racial slur.
When the owners were preparing for the restaurant to open, the lawsuit claims, Gonzalez showed up at the site and said: “No ch--- from New York is going to tell me how to do my business.”
Liu and Asta say Gonzalez issued an illegitimate “red flag” notice to the restaurant before it opened, saying the hoods above its hibachi tables weren’t certified.
Even after the owners proved the hoods were up to code and the restaurant opened in May 2018, Gonzalez tried to revoke a mechanical approval for no stated reason, according to the complaint.
Gonzalez has denied the allegations. The city of Fort Lauderdale has moved to have the claims against it dismissed.
Pizzi said he believes the vandalism is a response to media coverage of the lawsuit in recent days. The Herald first wrote about the case on Oct. 31 and an ABC affiliate, WPLG, also covered the story.
“This is clearly a reaction to the lawsuit and the corresponding coverage,” Pizzi said.
The situation is “really scary,” Pizzi said, but the restaurant will remain open.
“The Red Door is going to stay open and they’re going to continue to prosper,” he said. “They’re not going anywhere.”