Curry Up sign

After it went public that black-owned bakery Bake Me Happy in Merion Village was on the receiving end of a racist and violent threat, another minority-owned restaurant came forward saying they too are dealing with racists making threats behind their cell phones.

Not to downplay their situation, but Bake Me Happy told Columbus police and the FBI they received threats over a single weekend. The popular and lauded Curry Up Indian Grill on Sawmill Road told the Free Press they’ve been targeted with racist calls for almost two years now, about six to ten times a month.

Curry Up owner Vishal Patel said he received a threat “just the other day.” And threats against minority-owned restaurants and businesses could be a much bigger problem than the police or public know.

Patel believes minority-owned establishments up and down Sawmill are also receiving threats, but the owners are too afraid or worried they may scare customers away if they were to go public.

The staggering bottom line is this – not only are minority business owners dealing with the crush of the pandemic, but also (secret) racists who can’t resist to keep their hatred to themselves as they hide their identity behind cell phones.

“They’re making racist comments, or ‘you need to leave’,” says Patel about some of these calls. Patel was born in India but was raised in Northeast Ohio and became a US citizen.

He’s not sure if it’s the same person or different persons making these calls. Sometimes the threats have been so extreme he’s kept them from his wife and children, but he has alerted police.

“Last year, someone called saying, ‘I’m going to shoot the place up’, and ‘I’ll be waiting for you in the parking lot,’ ‘I know what type of car you have,’ ‘I know you have wife and kids’ [and do things to them the Free Press refuses to publish],” said Patel who insisted “he did not want to make this about race – I believe there are bad people everywhere.”

After this threat, Columbus police sent out extra patrols around Curry Up and dined there in case someone was watching the restaurant. 

Patel has filed multiple police reports, and police have shown about “half a dozen times,” but there’s only so much police can do with blocked numbers. What’s more, demanding someone “to go home” is deemed a nuisance call by many dispatchers, which police don’t make runs for.

“It’s come to the point where unless it’s something bad I don’t even bother (calling the police). It’s become that discouraging,” he said.

Patel is not into guns, but one of the officers told Patel he should consider buying a gun and getting his concealed carry permit.

“The officer told me he would take me to the shooting range and teach me how to use it,” said Patel.

The FBI and the US Attorney’s Office said they are investigating the threats against Bake Me Happy.

Intimidation against ethnicity in America upsurged over the previous four years, and no one needs a primer on how our previous President fomented racists with his dog-whistle.

One group who has tangibly faced the racist surge has been CAIR-Ohio, the Council of American-Islamic Relations, the nation’s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy group. 

CAIR-Ohio spokesperson Maryam Abidi says they mostly deal with racism in the workplace and with discrimination cases.

They also hear a lot about what Abidi calls “naked racism,” a colloquial term used to describe, for example, how FOX news continuously brings up gun violence in urban communities but refuse to blame the huge influx of guns that have been sold into those communities.

In the last several months CAIR-Ohio has dealt with “two or three cases that have been just straight hate crimes,” says Abidi.

“This sounds like (what Curry Up is experiencing), where they are facing an overwhelming, constant refrain of racist threats,” she says.

The last four years, for those who may not be aware, have put ethnic America on edge.

“We have seen the growth of the far right – and white supremacists – move into the mainstream over the past four years. (But) experiences with racism, and out-an-out violent racists, for CAIR, and for many marginalized people, did not begin four years ago,” she said.

The pandemic has forced Patel to make lay-offs, loyal customers and their families don’t dine as often, but he remains upbeat even when answering the phone – these days a restaurant’s true lifeline – can trigger fear.

“Unfortunately, this is the part of the business, especially for ethnic restaurants. It’s sad and unfortunate, but you can’t assume it’s not going to happen. If you are, you are little naïve,” said Patel.