A Korean restaurant in Québec City, Canada, will be reopening after closing two weeks ago due to harassment and threats for not serving in French.
Bab Sang, a restaurant located at 1282 Avenue Maguire in Québec, reportedly received threatening phone calls after Le Soleil, a local newspaper, published an article that noted the restaurant’s servers’ inability to speak French and that their menu was only written in English.
“Some called us and they said ‘just leave Quebec,’” the restaurant owner, identified as Joe, told CBC.
The harassment came during the election campaign, wherein party leaders promised to ensure the viability of the French language. Bruno Marchand, Quebec City’s mayor, also said that businesses must function in French in the city.
“I do not want to talk about this particular situation, but I do want to say we will not make concessions on the backs of the labor shortage … [Quebec] is in French, this is non-negotiable,” Marchand reportedly said.
Joe, who moved to the city with his family from New Brunswick four months ago, said he is disappointed with the hostility he has faced in the area. He also struggled to find francophone employees.
“Frankly, I’m still afraid to get the phone,” Joe said. “My heart breaks when my employees get the phone and [people are] mean and threatening. It was a really hard time for me.”
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“I’m really sorry for my customers who want to get French service,” he added. “I want to serve them in French. I cannot speak French and I don’t have French staff now, but I cannot solve it by myself.”
When members of the Quebec City community learned of the harassment the business had been receiving, many stepped up to visit the restaurant and promote the business online.
“It’s been good to see the anglophone community come together on this but also I think there’s a lot of francophones who feel that probably the restaurant got a raw deal here originally and they want to support it,” community member Hoffman Wolff told CBC. “[They] could have chosen to live anywhere in Canada but picked Quebec City and started a business here. That’s absolutely the sort of person we want in our community.”
Joe’s situation also reached Terrance Keller, who edited and translated the restaurant’s menu items into French.
“What was at the center of this was their menu, which really needed a lot of work. It definitely didn’t present a French face. And so I took it upon myself with Joe’s help,” Keller told CBC. “I know that Google Translate’s out there and it appears very easy on the surface but it takes quite a lot of time actually.”
“I think this period was really not fun, he felt afraid for his kids a little bit,” Keller added. “But I think we’ve turned a corner, I think the community is onside. I think you can imagine your problems are behind you.”
The publicity also helped Joe find francophone staff, including three CEGEP (General and Vocational College) students who were moved by his situation.
He will be reopening Bab Sang on Wednesday evening with his regular business hours. He is grateful for the community members who offered their help and support for the restaurant.
“I made my mistake to make a menu in bilingual, it was my fault. But lots of supporters and Quebecois want me to reopen and they are really lovely people,” Joe said. “I love Quebec City.”