Ahousaht couple seeks apologies after facing racism at restaurant

Victoria, BC

It was supposed to be a quiet date night at a favorite sushi restaurant but things turned sour when an Ahousaht couple heard racial slurs being hurled in their direction by a party of three seated nearby.

“We had a lot of exciting things happen so we went out to celebrate,” said Herb Dick, 38.

The couple went to dinner that Wednesday night, Oct. 21. Their two young daughters were going to join their parents but decided to stay home at the last minute.

Nubo restaurant was one of their favorites and the couple enjoyed its upbeat vibe.

“It’s usually lively, people laughing, but there was a different kind of energy there that day,” said Dick.

There seemed to be tension in the air which he and his fiancé didn’t know why. The restaurant was full with about 30 patrons, including some drinking at the nearby bar.

“I am hard of hearing, and my fiancé gave me a funny look; she asked, you can’t hear that?” said Dick, whose fiancé told him they were being called “savages.”

Seated at the bar were two Asian males and a Caucasian female, drinking alcohol. Dick said they were being loud and obnoxious and it became clear why there was tension in the air that night.

“My fiancé was getting irritated, saying that she can hear them talking about us,” said Dick.

Dick wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt, telling himself that maybe they weren’t talking about them; maybe there’s some sort of misunderstanding.

Herb noticed that the males appeared to be staff, with restaurant logos on their hats. He called out to them, “I said, ‘What’s up, man?’.”  

According to Dick, one the men flexed and then got up to approach the couple. But restaurant staff intervened and escorted the intoxicated man to the back.  

It appeared the unpleasant incident was over but things were about to get worse. When the couple left the restaurant, Dick was met with a fist when he rounded the corner to get to his car.

“He was waiting outside with three other males and he threw a punch,” said Dick, who managed to block the punch with his elbow.

He recalled that a female server came out of the restaurant right behind them. Dick said the three males attempted to pull the assailant away toward back of the restaurant.

“He was still chirping off,” said Dick.

In the commotion, the couple could not get to their car. Feeling cornered and outnumbered, Dick was afraid for the safety of his fiancé.

But then something amazing happened. A bystander carrying a bag of groceries saw what was going on.

“He threw his groceries down and said, ‘I got you bud’,” Dick recalled.

The assailant gave up and everyone walked away. Grateful for the support of the stranger, Dick said he wished that he had gotten his name.

“That’s the type of stuff that we should be writing about,” said Dick, adding that the man saw someone in trouble and jumped in to help. “He de-escalated the situation.”

Shaken, the couple debated about what to do.

“In our old ways, we are taught to be quiet,” said Dick.

He noted that he suffers from racism on a regular basis and sometimes it doesn’t seem worth it to report incidents like this.

“The torment comes when people don’t necessarily believe what you are saying,” said Dick. “I felt offended, hurt, scared for my wife.”

They called the police that evening, not having much faith that it would do any good.

“There’s not too much trust there; we wonder how they’re going to perceive it,” said Dick.

But the police took it seriously and followed up with the restaurant. Bowen Osoko of the Victoria Police Department confirmed that they have a file on the incident, stating that initially they were called by for a disturbance at the restaurant as the incident was happening.

“An officer attended a restaurant in the 700 block of Pandora Avenue just before 9 p.m. for a report of disturbance,” Osoko stated in an email. “When the officer arrived, he learned that the person who called had already departed, but he spoke with staff and witnesses about what had occurred and spoke with the complainant a few minutes later.”

Nubo Group operates four restaurants in Victoria. Dissatisfied with the restaurant’s lack of response to the attack on their customers, Dick and his family took to social media. The post gave a brief description of what happened and noted that the restaurant was not taking responsibility.

“A few people responded to the post,” said Dick.

Some wrote Google reviews for the restaurant and some wrote negative posts on the restaurant’s Facebook page but they were getting deleted as fast as they were going up.

“They eventually blocked me from the page,” said Dick.

Anton Ihl is Nubo’s Manager of Marketing, Sales and Business Development. He admits that it took him longer that he would have liked to reach out to Dick. Besides working in the restaurant until 11 p.m., Ihl has taken on construction work to bring in extra income since the pandemic has taken its toll on the business.

Ihl says that he was unaware anything happened until he saw the negative posts going up on the restaurant’s social media pages.

“They were saying Nubo is racist, don’t go to Nubo…I wanted to talk to the victim and get to the bottom of it,” said Ihl.

“I told him what happened and he listened,” said Dick. “I told him how it feels to be First Nations and how we face racism regularly; and he said he heard me, he understands.”

In his first contact with the restaurant owner, Dick said he was offered $200.

“I told him it’s not about the money, it’s about situation that happened. It was disrespectful; I told him I want change, I don’t want this to happen to anyone else,” he added.

Ihl went to work, writing a public apology to Dick and his fiancé which was posted on their Nubo Restaurant and Bar Facebook page.

“On behalf of the Nubo Group we would like to formally apologize for the events that took place on October 21st. As a restaurant we failed to protect our guests from a patron who has since been banned at all of our locations,” reads the apology.

Ihl says that the attacker was not a restaurant employee but was a friend of one of the kitchen staff and was wearing a restaurant hat. He confirms that the man was intoxicated and was eventually cut off by the restaurant bartender.

He regrets that Dick and his fiancé suffered this experience in his restaurant.

“Racism is something we do not condone and will not tolerate,” said Ihl.

In addition to the public apology, Ihl has established an event at the restaurant on Nov. 18. We’re all Human – Celebrate Diversity, will be an educational fundraiser. Dick will be the guest of honour and has been invited to speak about his experiences. He will be allowed to invite guests.

Dick works with the homeless and underprivileged. He asked that something be done to help the needy.  In response, the restaurant is hosting a community clothing drive in honor of Herbie Dick.

“This is one of my favorite spots,” said Dick of Nubo Kitchen & Bar. “The only thing that made it different was this person.”

Dick is pleased with the company response.

“They are accepting responsibility and are making changes,” he noted.

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