In an open letter, musicians who play at venues owned by the Atlas Restaurant Group have demanded an end to the company’s unequally-enforced dress code, more reliable methods to report racism in the workplace and investment in Black neighborhoods.
“We perform music that arises from the Black experience,” the letter, signed by nearly 60 individuals and organizations, says. “We believe that Black lives matter, and that Atlas has created spaces that systematically discriminate against communities of color.”
Last weekend, a video of a Black boy and his mother being denied service at Ouzo Bay in Harbor East went viral.
Under pressure from local, national and social media, Atlas president Alex Smith announced an end to the dress code for children, and an end to the dress code for all guests at the two Atlas restaurants in the Four Seasons hotel: The Bygone and Maximón.
In response to the musicians’ demands, posted Saturday, the company’s management team said it had never been informed about a racist environment. The team, which includes Smith and his brother Eric, said it would hold a roundtable in order to “open a productive dialogue.”
“Candidly, we were very surprised to read the content of the letter,” a statement reads. “Bottom line, we can’t address or change what we don’t know about. We are always accessible and wanting to listen.”
Black musicians say they feel disrespected and that it often takes weeks or months to get paid by Atlas Restaurants.
In calling out the chain, the performers join a chorus of denunciations, including a call by City Council President Brandon Scott for Atlas to end the dress code policy at all of its restaurants and create a scholarship program for city school graduates interested in hospitality and food service career.
“People look down on you”
Black musicians who organized the letter-writing effort told The Brew they feel disrespected at Atlas restaurants, and that it often takes weeks or even months to get paid.
“A lot of times it can feel like people look down on you,” said Clarence Ward III, a prominent Black trumpeter and saxophonist who has played a handful of gigs at Atlas restaurants, mostly at Tagliata in Harbor East.
“The energy itself sometimes just feels shady. Some of my friends probably wouldn’t fit in there,” he said.
“Bottom line, we can’t address or change what we don’t know about. We are always accessible and wanting to listen” – Alex and Eric Smith.
Ward said he wanted to use his prominent position in the local music community to push for change, at a time when many musicians aren’t financially secure enough to take a stand against an employer.
“You don’t want to mess up that money you might need later,” Ward said. “If I’m on board, most cats will probably be on board.”
“In the end,” he said, “I just want to be treated like everyone else.”
“Make sure your musicians are taken care of. Get them something to drink!”