Racist rumors on Yelp force Thai restaurant in Fresno to shut down
A family-owned California restaurant was forced to temporarily shut down after a racist rumor spread on social media that it was "maybe" involved in selling dog meat.
Tasty Thai, a six-month-old small takeout spot at First Avenue near Belmont Avenue in Fresno, found itself on the receiving end of negative and threatening reviews on Yelp on Monday night.
Owner David Rasavong reported the comments to the platform, but even more racist claims were posted the next morning.
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"These types of disgusting allegations, especially based on stereotypes, particularly the Asian stereotype, it's hard for me to fathom that it still exists in this day and age," Rasavong told ABC30 News.
While Yelp eventually took down the reviews, the harm to Rasavong's reputation had been done and the safety of his establishment was already put at risk.
As the threats extended beyond online comments to include threatening phone calls and voicemails, Rasavong decided to file a police report with the Fresno Police.
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Rasavong later discovered that the hateful comments stemmed from a viral video of a dog tied up at a house near his restaurant.
The video uploader, identified as Maria Alvarez Garcia, initially raised concerns about the welfare of the animal before suggesting that the restaurant was associated with the home and potentially involved in selling dog meat.
"There is a restaurant, a little marketplace next to that house that is attached to that house," Garcia wrote. "So I think something needs to be investigated because now, heartbreaking as it is, it makes more sense that they are eating the meat and selling the meat.
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In a statement, Rasavong denied the accusation and announced that he has since decided to close the restaurant temporarily to protect his immigrant parents, who arrived in the United States over 40 years ago. According to Rasavong, he intends to keep fighting to restore his restaurant's reputation.
Fresno Police conducted an investigation and concluded that the dog was not being abused, debunking all racist claims made against the restaurant.
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Two days after the initial comments were posted, Garcia released a follow-up video urging people to stop attacking Rasavong and his restaurant and focus on the well-being of the dog instead.
When a reporter confronted Garcia about her accusations, she denied making any negative comments about the restaurant but admitted that she indeed insinuated that the establishment was selling dog meat.
"At the beginning, yes. A lot of people believed that. A lot of people thought that they were related and that they were connected together. Yes, a lot of people they believe that," Garcia was quoted as saying.
Commenters on Tasty Thai's Facebook page have expressed support for the restaurant, encouraging the owner to file charges against Garcia and reopen the restaurant again soon.
"Let’s help drown out this hate with love!" a commenter wrote. "Leave Google reviews and Yelp reviews to support this restaurant! I can’t wait to order."
"You have always been a respectful man, business owner and community leader; please don’t let any of this negativity deter you from being the upstanding individual I have known and believe you to be for more than a decade!" wrote another.
"This lady needs to learn an expensive lesson," one comment read. "Sue her for defamation and loss of revenue for every day you are closed. It sucks to have to resort to that but you gotta think about your own bills to pay."
"I am so sorry you are still having problems," another wrote. "It's insane. I hope you are able to reopen soon."