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Ethnic Restaurant Owner Claims Racism by Landlord : Dispute: Suit alleges slurs against customers and destruction of flag outside Ethiopian eatery. Landlord denies accusations and attributes trouble to tenant not paying his rent.

October 15, 1994|DEBBIE KONG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

GARDEN GROVE — An Ethiopian restaurant owner alleges in a lawsuit filed this week that his landlord made racist comments to his customers and destroyed an Ethiopian flag.

"For the past two weeks, I have been burning inside. I am just searching for justice," said Michael B. Belay, owner of Ras Dashen Ethiopian Restaurant on Harbor Boulevard at Lampson Avenue.

The landlord, Silvio Fiorentin, denied the accusations. Belay "can't pay his rent and is having problems,' Fiorentin said, adding that he had reduced the rent at Belay's request but that Belay still was not paying on time.

The lawsuit filed in Orange County Superior Court alleges that Fiorentin complained to Belay in racist language that the business attracted African Americans.

Belay, whose restaurant opened in March, said the problems began when he started having evening reggae concerts.

But Fiorentin, who has an office in the shopping center, said he was not aware that Belay had music.

"I go home at 5 p.m. every day. I'm never around at night," he said.

His landlord also ridiculed the way he served food, in the traditional Ethiopian style, without silverware, Belay said.

"He told the customers I didn't have any spoons. And he told me that this is America. You have to have spoons. I work hard for a living. That is over the limit for me the way he talks."

The lawsuit alleges that Fiorentin removed the Ethiopian flag hanging in front of the shopping center and later destroyed it.

But the landlord contended Friday that he routinely removes the flags every six months to replace them with new ones.

The shopping center displays American, Costa Rican and Mexican flags and includes a sushi bar, Thai-Chinese restaurant, soul-food restaurant, beauty salon and mattress shop.

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