Restaurant News

Middle Eastern Bakery and Deli Vandalism Not Yet Deemed a Hate Crime, Phoenix Police Say

Isam Saed, the owner of Middle Eastern Bakery & Deli in Phoenix, said on Monday he was "overwhelmed" by the support he's received from the community since someone broke the front window of his business over the weekend — for the second time in a month. The speculation on social media is that the act was racially motivated, but a spokesman for the Phoenix Police Department says that Saed has not been responsive to their outreach and has not filed a police report, and they can't determine the motivation without an investigation.

"Until we hear from him, we won't be able to figure out if this is a biased crime," Phoenix police sergeant Vincent Lewis told New Times on Tuesday. "Because of the interest in [this case], and the possibility it might be a hate crime, we have a lot of work to do ... but we're still waiting for [Saed] to find the time to talk to us."

Saed is not on Facebook, but posts about the broken window from patrons and people in the neighborhood around the restaurant spread quickly across social media, and then to traditional media, as supporters funneled more than $12,000 (as of this writing) into a GoFundMe campaign for the bakery, and began packing the restaurant for breakfast and lunch this week. A local company, M&M Glass, showed up with new panes at the restaurant, and will replace the damaged windows for free.

Multiple media outlets were lined up in front of the restaurant at 2:30 p.m. on Monday, when Saed was presented with the news of the fundraiser for the restaurant, and shook hands with M&M Glass owner Rick Carmouche, who told a teary-eyed Saed, "You are not alone."

"I'm speechless. People are full of love," Saed said. "Phoenix is full of love, a city of love. I hope whatever happened here was not done out of hatred ... but the support and love I see here will overcome any hatred."

Saed said he just wanted to get back to feeding his customers.

"He's a very humble man. He probably just doesn't want to start any trouble," said Nicole Eisenmann, who was at the bakery on Monday with her husband, Eric, and son Chance, and says her family has known the Saeds for years. "He's a very good man, so full of love. He didn't deserve this. Nobody wants to say it, but we think it was probably racially motivated. This has happened twice since the election."

Without Saed's cooperation, the police can't determine whether or not this was a hate crime, Lewis said. Unlike cases of domestic violence or homicide, the police typically don't investigate vandalism without a report from the victim. "Windows are broken all over town, for various reasons," he added. "If [Saed] doesn't want to press charges, then it's just another broken window."

Lewis cautioned against labeling the vandalism a hate crime until more information is available.

"Other than everybody assuming it was a hate crime because 'Middle Eastern' is in the business name, we have nothing that points toward it being a hate crime." Lewis said, adding that the Phoenix Police Department has been working with immigrant groups to encourage them to report crimes they might not have reported in their countries of origin. "So it could look like there's an increase in criminal activity [since the election], but it's really an increase in reporting."

"I don't know that any new biases happened because of the election," Lewis said. "This could have happened any day of the year. People are biased year-round."