A Minneapolis Restaurant Owner Protects His Community


Rashad West got the restaurateur bug more than a decade ago, while moving up from washing dishes to manning the woks at a Chinese restaurant. After college, where he quarterbacked for a Division Two football team, he sold his sneaker collection—for $18,000—to help fund his first restaurant. Today, West and his wife own eight-employee Asian restaurant Dragon Wok, in the Powderhorn neighborhood of Minneapolis. Their business is across the street from the spot where George Floyd was killed in police custody on May 25. West, 30, provided footage of the incident from his video security system to the media. On June 2, he spoke with Bloomberg Businessweek about navigating life as a black business owner in a city with a deadly policing problem. This interview has been edited.


When I learned about what happened to George Floyd, I went to the restaurant and checked the security cameras. I don’t know how many times you’ve seen or heard stories of countless, pointless murders of black men. It’s ridiculous. We’ve seen this happen too many times. People always ask, how do we know he wasn’t struggling beforehand? Maybe he had a bad interaction with the police. As soon as I saw him get handcuffed, I realized there was literally no threat posed to the officers: He wasn’t struggling, he wasn’t doing anything that would warrant his treatment. Nobody deserves to be treated like that.

I said, OK, people have to see this part. I want to give his family and the community the opportunity to see it. As a black man, I’m sick and tired of people trying to make excuses for why this happens to us. There’s no excuse. We can comply with the police and do everything they ask us to do, and something could still happen to us, regardless. Floyd did everything they asked him to do and yet, they still ended up killing him. I just wanted to give people who don’t have to live in this skin some insight. At the end of the day, there’s still a target on us.

If you’re in a position of responsibility—if you have a business in the community, for example—and something unjust happens in your sight or on your cameras, in my opinion, you owe it to the community that keeps your doors open to show them the truth and to keep truth protected.

We opened Dragon Wok in the Powderhorn location in March because we outgrew our old location in the Kingfield neighborhood. We knew the neighborhood was going to come with some challenges, but we needed the space. We have over 3,000 square feet now.

We moved right as the coronavirus prevention measures started hitting small businesses. We didn’t get a chance to do our grand opening. We bought all this new equipment, had all this custom furniture made, and then the city said, ‘You can’t have anybody in your dining area; it’s got to be takeout only.’ That was the same week that we planned on opening.

Minneapolis is a city of restaurants and bars. I asked myself: How’s it going to work for 80% of the businesses in Minneapolis? How are we going to get through this to start, and on the other end of it, how is it going to change the whole dynamic of running restaurants? What’s the adjustment going to be? It’s forcing us to be way more innovative way faster than we ever thought we would have to be. But restaurant owners are a very crafty group. No one is going to give up without a fight. 

Luckily, our business model is similar to Chipotle and Jimmy John’s, but with the quality of a higher-end Chinese restaurant. We’re built on takeout and delivery. You can order online or call to get an order in under an hour. The dine-in part was new. Our customers were already used to just doing takeout and delivery. That kind of saved us. It was a blessing.

Before we closed temporarily, out of respect for George Floyd’s memorial and in solidarity with our community, we had gone to a skeleton crew. I’m a cook, too, so I’d been in the trenches almost every day. I was working double shifts, from about 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. I wanted to make sure people who have been with us the longest have some security. You have to look out for people and put yourself last right now. You want the business to survive so you can bring them back. 

We didn’t apply for a Paycheck Protection Program loan or an Economic Injury Disaster Loan. We’ve gone through so much, and we haven’t used any bank loans. We’ve always self-financed and just grinded it out. I pretty much sacrificed my early 20s working. I’ve been with my wife since I was 17, so that helped as well. I literally took every dollar I made and put it right back in the business, just to keep things going. We think we can make it without the loans.

The governor gave June 1 as the date restaurants could reopen. But the guidelines were 50% capacity. You can only have seating outside. You have to have a new sanitation system plan written up to show the health department if it visits your restaurant. We had been planning to add a bar to our restaurant; that’s almost impossible right now.

We don’t have a reopening date. We’re just trying to give the community time to heal and show our support. Things will never be the same. It really hits home when something like this happens directly across the street. You stop thinking about the restaurant and start thinking about the community.

When I think about what happened, I think: It doesn’t matter what my stature is in the city. It could’ve been me. Even if you comply, if you get the wrong officer that day, you never know what is going to happen to you. That’s something I’ve been dealing with my entire life. It’s been very sobering.

The peaceful protesting and the memorial is right on the intersection in front of our restaurant. The neighborhood is very protective of the buildings. They are not allowing anyone in who gives them a sense that they’re seeking violence. They want people who are spreading love and positivity. The whole front of my restaurant is windows. Our windows are not boarded up. We haven’t been touched. Other parts of Minneapolis definitely have been ran through. Those people are not the peaceful protesters. Those people are not thinking about George Floyd when they’re breaking these windows and going in places and stealing things. It changes the narrative and takes away from groups that are trying to force change in a way that everybody will be safe in.

People are going to put peaceful protestors and looters into one broad group, but they’re two completely different groups of people. There are a lot of outside people coming in and taking advantage of the situation. These are not our local people. Why would we destroy our Dollar Store? Why would we destroy our AutoZone? There are literally no grocery stores left in South Minneapolis. It’s just sickening.

I would like to hope that these businesses have the insurance to cover the damages. A lot of people have their entire life savings put into these businesses. We go to ours every single day; it’s our second home. Some people are there more than they’re home. It literally is your life. So when people destroy that, you’re taking away the lifeline for an entire family. For many, their store has been in their family for generations. Now it’s gotten completely wiped out: Plans to sell it to retire or fund their kids’ education, or pass it on to their kids, just completely taken away.

I don’t think the looting is going to continue, because most of the things were destroyed in the first two days. The community is coming out and sweeping up and helping these business owners clean up all the glass all over the ground. The community is not standing for more destruction. We’re not allowing this to continue. It has to end.


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