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Asheville’s Good Hot Fish Targeted by Racially Motivated Vandalism

“We are not immune to racism because we live in a beautiful utopia of mountains and art.”

A Black woman with glasses, a beanie, and an orange shirt looking pensively over the city.
Ashleigh Shanti is the chef-owner of Good Hot Fish in Asheville.
Mike Belleme

Two weeks to the day from the opening of Ashleigh Shanti’s oft-delayed and feverishly anticipated Good Hot Fish (10 Buxton Avenue, Asheville), the restaurant was the target of a racist incident, which left the chef shaken and angry, but also buoyed by the support she has received from colleagues and community.

Ironically, Shanti was in Raleigh the first weekend of February, participating in the Triangle Wine & Food Festival, so she was not on site the night of the incident on Saturday, February 3. Her wife Meaghan Shanti, who was at the restaurant, filled her in when she returned to Good Hot Fish on Sunday.

Saturday evening, around closing time at 7 p.m., diners were finishing their meals in the restaurant. Preparing to mop the dining room floors after the customers left, an employee went outside to hang the rugs over the rail around the second-story patio and noticed a group of men down the street from Good Hot Fish. “She was watching them because they were sort of clustered up and just hanging out down the street. She heard them count ‘one, two, three,’ and then one of them pulled the red lever on the outside power breaker,” Ashleigh says, pointing to the meter box attached to the building. (On older buildings the exterior emergency power cutoff is often outside and unlocked to allow a fire department to shut off power.)

“Our power went out, the group walked off, and the employee was yelling at them when some of our customers came outside to see what was happening and yelled at them too. One of the guys came back, flipped the switch so the power came back on, and ran off.”

A slide from Good Hot Fish showing the sticker.

What could have been seen as an act of random vandalism took a different turn when Meaghan found a sticker they believe the same group placed on the rail at the bottom of the exterior staircase. The black-and-white graphic depicts a city skyline over the words “How to ruin a white city.” Above the skyline, a hand holds a shaker can with a racist epithet, sprinkling black figures onto the skyline. The hand holding the shaker is in a sleeve with the Star of David.

“Meaghan had tears in her eyes when she showed it to me,” Ashleigh says, “The idea that a group of guys was just walking down the street and happened to hit our restaurant, the only Black-owned business in an area that presents as very white, is ridiculous. There is nothing from the street that indicates we are Black-owned, so they did their research and targeted us with their racist message.”

Shanti informed her landlord of the incident and as word spread through the community, she created a five-panel story on Instagram with an account of the incident, the image of the sticker, and her reaction. She has talked to the neighbors to obtain security camera footage and is filing a report with the Asheville Police Department.

Going public with the incident resulted in some online speculation that Good Hot Fish staged it to drum up business. “That anyone would think I would craft something like that as a marketing ploy is sickening,” Ashleigh says, “We have gotten plenty of press and have been crushing our numbers since we opened. This is a 20-seat restaurant. It’s not hard to fill it.”

She says she is surprised by how many people are shocked that the incident happened in a “progressive city” like Asheville. “We are not immune to racism because we live in a beautiful utopia of mountains and art. I think it’s important to put this out there to remind people this is still here and we need to live up to our progressive reputation.”

The immediate, strong, and public support from Asheville’s restaurant community, including Little Chango, Huli Sue’s, Katie Button Restaurant Group, chefs J Chong and Camille Cogswell, and the Asheville Independent Restaurant Association has been uplifting.

On a sunny afternoon four days after the incident, a first-time customer approached Shanti on the patio and asked to shake her hand. “I just want to welcome you and thank you for being here,” he said, waiting on his to-go order.

“I don’t want the support and kindness we’ve received to be overlooked,” Ashleigh says, “But Asheville still has work to do and that can’t be forgotten either.”