Fort Myers mayor weighs in on claims of racist treatment at downtown restaurant

Reporter: Breana Ross Writer: Matthew Seaver
Published: Updated:
First Street Restaurant and Bar in downtown Fort Myers. (Credit: WINK News)

The NAACP of Lee County is calling for the business license at the First Street Restaurant in downtown Fort Myers to be revoked after accusing the restaurant of discriminating against Black customers.

Wednesday marked the second sit-in at the First Street Restaurant and Bar this week. “We know we need to take a stand and that’s what we’re doing here today,” said Jacquelyn McMiller, racial justice chair for the Lee County NAACP.

McMiller went to the sit-in in support of Nora Potts. Potts claims she and the owner of First Street Restaurant agreed to hold a series of day parties, but after the first event on March 13, a manager made a racist comment toward her. Two days later, Potts said the owner canceled the next scheduled day party.

MORE: Downtown Fort Myers restaurant accused of discriminating against Black customers

During Sunday’s sit-in, Potts claims staff members went to tables with black guests only to explain they could not serve them because some kitchen equipment broke. “I’m hoping that we’re going to continue to do sit-ins, to do marches, to do whatever it takes to bring attention to the unfairness of the situation,” said McMiller.

The owner of First Street Restaurant, Bill Babamov, said the manager’s comment upset him and she no longer works at the restaurant. Babamov said a member of his staff even sent an apology to Potts, but he says the rest of Potts’ claims aren’t true.

He said he canceled the day party because of space and staffing issues and that his staff never refused to serve black guests only.

The NAACP is not convinced. On Tuesday, the organization sent a note to Fort Myers city leaders accusing the restaurant of practicing white supremacy. The NAACP wants the city to revoke first street’s business license. “Whenever anything like this happens, we need to take action immediately, not wait, not divert it, but take action immediately,” said McMiller.

Fort Myers Mayor Kevin Anderson said he looked into it and asked the city attorney for the protocol. “We don’t have the legal right just to pull someone’s business license for an allegation of this nature. Everyone is entitled to due process,” said Anderson.

He said that due process is out of the city’s hands. It’s a matter better left to civil court. “It doesn’t warrant the city closing the business down,” said Anderson.

Michael Tobiasen agrees. He is a regular at First Street. He said he does not want to diminish the feelings of those who are upset, but he says he’s seen comments on social media that worry him. “I’ve never in the years I’ve been going there since bill and some of those servers there never seen them act inappropriately,” said Tobiasen.

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