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Customers accuse Fort Myers restaurant of racial bias

First Street Restaurant & Bar racial discrimination allegations
Posted at 11:17 PM, Mar 21, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-24 14:30:48-04

FORT MYERS, Fla. — A Fort Myers restaurant is accused of racial discrimination.

A group has been flooding social media saying that the First Street Restaurant refused to serve them and then called the police to kick them out.

We spoke with the accusers, the restaurant owner, and reached out to Fort Myers police for a comment.

Charlene Towe claims management at First Street would not book an event for her friend, Nora Potts, despite hosting a similar event for them the week prior. In a social media post that has gone viral, Potts claims they wanted to make the event a weekly occurrence, but that request was denied due in part to an employee feeling "uncomfortable."

They claim a racial comment was made as the group was asked to leave.

First Street's owner, Bill Babamov, said they couldn't honor the accommodations due to the group's size. He said the issue was that they were trying to hold it over St. Patrick's Day weekend.

"We hosted an event a week ago, but it was overcrowded," Babamov said. "They packed the restaurant to where it was a safety hazard."

Towe's group instead planned a "sit-in," in which members sat at tables in the restaurant and only ordered drinks.

First Street provided a surveillance video that shows the group seated for approximately three hours. Eventually, police were called and Towe says her party was asked to leave. Fort Myers police clarified on March 24 they were called to assist with multiple customers on the premises after business hours. "No specific person" was targeted, per a police statement.

"It's not what you say, it's how you say it," said Towe. "I think he could have been way nicer about the situation."

Babamov disputes the reason behind the police arrival; he says they were initially called after an employee reported their phone stolen.

Despite this, the footage shows police briefly speaking with the sit-in party. Moments later, the group exited the restaurant.

"Half of our clientele is African-American, Cuban," said Babamov. "I am a foreign American with a thick accent. The last thing I'll be against is diversity."