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Box Hill Pizzeria owner invites conversation on race after alleged racist exchange among customers, employee

Box Hill Pizzeria & Crabcakes co-owners Chris Kanaras, from right, brother Tom and his son Nico.
Box Hill Pizzeria & Crabcakes co-owners Chris Kanaras, from right, brother Tom and his son Nico. (Kenneth K. Lam)

One of Box Hill Pizzeria’s owners has reached out to members of Harford County’s Black community, asking for guidance after an incident earlier this week in which one of the restaurant’s servers and three customers were accused of being involved in a racist exchange about a Black customer.

Tom Kanaras, one of the restaurant’s owners, said that a Black woman went to Box Hill Pizzeria on Monday afternoon and was called a racial epithet by a group of other customers. The group of three male customers allegedly expressed surprise to a server that Black people were allowed into the restaurant, using the N-word, as the woman got a soda, and the server allegedly replied “they come in from time to time,” Kanaras said.

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The server has since been fired.

Kanaras, who was on vacation in Ocean City when the incident occurred, received an email about the exchange, he said, and set about gathering facts, speaking to the two servers who were in the restaurant and reviewing video footage. The cameras caught the exchange, but did not capture sound per Maryland law, Kanaras said.

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The servers denied the incident took place, but Kanaras said he had to make a call. He saw no reason why the woman — who family said was in her 70s — would lie about the event. Furthermore, that behavior is not acceptable at any of his restaurants, he said. The server was fired “within a minute” of learning about the incident, according to a statement posted to the restaurant’s Facebook page.

“It is one of these situations that you have to do what you feel is right as an owner, and I felt it was the right thing to do,” Kanaras said.

Kanaras did not know the three customers who made the initial remark, but said the restaurant did not condone or tolerate behavior like that. If he had known about the incident immediately, “the racists involved would have been made to leave, and would be barred from ever coming into Box Hill Pizzeria again,” according to the statement.

“I do not want people like that in here, they have no business being in here,” Kanaras said. “To make a statement like that towards anybody, that is wrong, and if there is someone who thinks it is right, I don’t want to deal with them either.”

The woman who was the target of the remark declined to speak for this article, but her cousin, Joyce Cromwell, said the family was happy with the restaurant’s response. Cromwell said they did not want to see protests or a boycott of the restaurant because the owners were responsive and professional in handling the incident.

“They do not tolerate it, and we appreciate that,” Cromwell said. “We do not want people just going out there being stupid; if the matter was not taken care of, that would have been different … but [Kanaras] had everything taken care of.”

Cromwell said Kanaras reached out to her family and spoke with them. They had never experienced anything like that at Box Hill Pizzeria before, Cromwell said, and believes it to be an isolated incident.

Kanaras has also opened the floor for members of the Black community and other people of color to come and speak to him and his staff to ensure an incident like this never happens again, he said. So far, two or three people have reached out and offered to come in and speak, he said, including a pastor and an athlete.

“Maybe we need to be a little more educated too ... Maybe we have to hear from people in the community, African American people, what is really going on and what we are missing,” Kanaras said. “I am willing to learn; I might be 59 years old, but I learn every day.”

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