Racial controversy takes toll on new businesses
RICHARD WEIZEL Rweizel@ctpost.com
STRATFORD — Ever since she was a girl growing up near Kingston, Jamaica, Marcia Mitchell-Davis loved mixing vegetables, meat and spices to conjure up Caribbean culinary delights.
She dreamed of coming to America to open a restaurant.
That dream came true nearly a year ago when her mother mortgaged a longtime Bridgeport home to launch Caribbean Delights Restaurant, a Woodend Road eatery specializing in Jamaican cuisine and American favorites.
But Mitchell-Davis' dream has turned sour.
Four counter stools remained empty at the peak of lunch hour Monday, with only a few customers stopping in for take-out orders.
It's been that way, she said, since her daughter, 15-year-old Titasheen Mitchell, was arrested during a now-infamous March 21 fight in front of a group of Woodend Road storefronts.
The melee, which was sparked when two other girls began fighting, engulfed Mitchell and Town Councilman Alvin O'Neal, D-2, both black. They allege Officer David Gugliotti, who is white, used excessive force and cursed at them while placing them under arrest.
Gugliotti was exonerated after a 60-day internal affairs investigation by the Police Department found a lack of "substantial" evidence that the officer used excessive force in making the arrests.
But both local and state minority leaders responded by organizing an anti-racism rally July 15, which despite threats by white supremacists, was attended by nearly 400 people at Town Hall.
The rally speakers included Mitchell-Davis, who delivered an impassioned plea, begging the town not to "forsake my daughter, my family, our restaurant.
"We want peace, but we also want to keep this business running," Mitchell-Davis said Monday, looking over a new Web site she set up to "let the public know the truth of what happened" through her eyes and more than 70 newspaper articles.
The site is, www.justicefortitasheenmitchellpolicebrutality.com.
"Things are very bleak, people are afraid to come here, as the police have tried to harass us and our customers," said Mitchell-Davis, 31, who came to America in 1983 and moved to Stratford in 1997. "We hope we can hold out, but I just don't know if we can."
Police officials have denied they have harassed Mitchell-Davis or her customers.
Mitchell-Davis said she could "make more money right now in a minimum-wage job" than running her own restaurant.
Another entrepreneur who opened up his own "dream" restaurant a few storefronts away from Caribbean Delights a few weeks after the March 21 incident, also said business has been slow.
"I first worked in this very pizzeria 10 years ago, it was my first job where I learned the business," said John Eren, the new owner of Corner Pizza, 1 Woodend Road. "I guess my timing wasn't the best, opening right in the middle of all this controversy. But I'm still hoping it will pass and people will forget."
Back at Caribbean Delights, one customer said he won't stop eating there.
"I love the food, it's unique and made perfectly," said 25-year-old Derin Wilson. "I know a lot of people have stayed away; it used to be crowded in here.
"I plan to come as much as possible because I don't know how much longer they are going to stay open."
Meanwhile, possible probes could be under way by the FBI and U.S. Department of Justice. The FBI has confirmed it has interviewed Mitchell, although she has not been interviewed by Stratford police. O'Neal indicated he has also been interviewed by the federal agency.