Charleston restaurant community reacts, copes with shooting

August 25, 2017 GMT

Fewer than 48 hours before the fatal shooting at Virginia’s on King, Angie Fetherston was a few blocks north at Hyatt House, conducting a BevCon Charleston seminar called “Protecting People on Both Sides of the Bar.” She says the session was sparsely attended.

“I feel like I can’t compete with eight different types of Fernet, but I really pushed for this because I really believe we can’t be blind to this problem in our industry,” says Fetherston, CEO of Washington D.C.’s Drink Company.

Fetherston credited BevCon founder Angel Postell with recognizing the potential threat of workplace violence in bars and restaurants, which industry insiders fear has been exacerbated by current political and economic conditions.

As bartender John Aquino of Virginia’s sister restaurant Coast told The Post and Courier, “With the staffing situation in this city, it’s getting harder and harder to find good help. And you can’t do background checks on everybody, so sometimes you are stuck with what you can get. And then sometimes this happens.”

According to a Bureau of Labor Statistics analysis of 2010 data, 15 percent of workplace homicides involving guns occur in the leisure-and-hospitality sector. It’s the third leading industry for fatal shootings, following the retail trade and government.

Earlier this year, a Bowie, Md. bartender was indicted for killing the manager and owners of the sushi restaurant where he worked. Police described the shooting as stemming from an “ongoing dispute.”

Restaurants and bars have also been frequent terrorist targets, most notably in the case of the coordinated attacks in Paris in November 2015. Yet Fetherston says restaurateurs have been slow to address security, largely because they’re distracted by daily tasks from what they consider “one-in-a-million situations.”

In Charleston, the restaurant community’s reaction to the shooting was mostly muted by shock. “It blew my mind, man,” says Griffin Bufkin, co-owner of Southern Soul Barbeque and another BevCon attendee; he was driving out of town when he heard the news. Although Monza and Closed for Business cancelled dinner service “due to the unfortunate circumstances,” the majority of King Street restaurants adhered to their regular schedules.

BevCon Charleston’s closing event was preceded by a moment of silence for the shooting’s victim. Randall Goldman, CEO of Patrick Properties Hospitality Group, said the marquee at the American Theater tomorrow will read “Our prayers are with the Bennett Hospitality Group.”

“It affects us very profoundly,” says Goldman, who chairs the Greater Charleston Restaurant Association. “The senselessness of this has rocked all of us...but when we have these kind of crises, we come together. The restaurant association will be there for Bennett Hospitality.”

A number of other local restaurant owners and employees declined to address the shooting on the record, in some instances saying they needed more time to process the news.

“You don’t actually think about these situations unless you sit down and think about it,” Fetherston says.

Her primary advice for restaurant and bar owners is to draft a response plan and make sure everything is in place so employees can enact it. For example, she says, bars often stash kegs in exit corridors, which could seriously impede customers’ escape.

If that occurred on Fetherston’s watch, she says, “I don’t know if I could live with myself. I think about the worst-case scenario because we’re responsible for the safety of our guests.”