EXCLUSIVE: LIC restaurant owners reveal video, deal with backlash after couple attack

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Co-owners Shih and Skinny Lee outside Shi restaurant in Long Island City.Photo/Video courtesy of Shih Lee
Co-owners Shih and Skinny Lee outside Shi restaurant in Long Island City.

A night that started off as “very uneventful” for one Long Island City restaurant now has its owners sifting through dozens of pieces of hate mail rife with threats and fielding angry phone calls.

“They say I’m disgusting, a monster and that I’ll never get their business again,” said Shih Lee, owner of Shi restaurant. “They said they’ll organize boycotts.”

The family-run business of five years became infamous last week after an interracial couple was assaulted near the 47-20 Center Boulevard eatery on August 17.

Billie and Jacob James-Vogel told multiple media outlets their pleas for help after the beating were ignored by Shi restaurant.

They also said their race and the fact that they were with a gay friend prompted the attack.

“We walked out and they started yelling racial and homophobic epithets,” Billie wrote on Yelp. “They leaped out of their car and severely beat my husband and attacked [me].”

The incident was ruled not a hate crime, a police source said, which means it was not motivated by bias. It is still being investigated by the NYPD.

According to her post on the business review site, Billie, who is black, said her husband, who is white, asked the doorman to call 9-1-1, but the guard said “not my problem” and closed the door in his face.

Surveillance footage exclusively obtained by The Courier shows Jacob calmly walking up to the security guard after the assault and speaking to him for about one minute. Though it was unclear what was said, Jacob walks away seconds before the front door starts to close.

The video also shows Jacob, minutes before the fight, being escorted out by the guard after he was in a long, heated argument with another man by the bar.

Darryl Simmons, the restaurant’s security guard, said Jacob did not ask to come back inside after the fight, but he wanted to know why he was originally kicked out.

“I said it was because he was in a verbal altercation and I didn’t need that in the restaurant,” Simmons said. “He never asked me anything else and he left as soon as the cops came.”

Shi officials said multiple people had already called 9-1-1.

The group first entered the restaurant for drinks, and not dinner, shortly after midnight, according to surveillance tapes. Jacob was led out about one hour later, and the rest of the party left on their own seconds before that, video shows.

The Vogels could not be reached at a phone number or an address listed for them.

“It’s upsetting,” said Shih’s brother and co-owner, Skinny Lee. “That’s not who we are.”

Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer, who is openly gay, held his birthday party at Shi last week after the incident and said he knows Shih to be “a smart and community-minded business owner who I believe is incredibly supportive of the LGBT community and equality for all.”

Restaurant regular Michael H., who did not want his last name published, said the restaurant has donated food and gift cards many times to his charity, which benefits inner city children.

“I’ve seen Shih put his hand out to so many people he doesn’t even know,” he said. “He would not tolerate racism, even insensitivity, especially in Queens.”

Still, the business owners said the damage has been done. The family, they said, is having a hard time dealing with the backlash they say was unwarranted.

“What they have done is just cause so much pain and grief,” Skinny said. “The hell they put us through is unbelievable.”

 

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