By Denise Dunbar | firstname.lastname@example.org
When Ran Yaniv sat down at his outside table at Washington, D.C.’s Bar Chinois on Nov. 14, 2023, he expected a nice, relaxing meal before walking to Union Station to catch a train. What he got was bad service and an offensive note on his check.
Yaniv, who is Jewish, viewed the note – which read “Free Palestine” with a heart and the words “Thank You” – as antisemitic. Almost two months later, Yaniv is still upset.
His server that day was Cassidy Ketchem, who previously worked as an aide to Elizabeth Bennett-Parker when Bennett-Parker was Alexandria’s vice mayor. In August 2020, Ketchem was arrested and charged with assaulting a police officer and resisting arrest during a Black Lives Matter protest that turned destructive.
According to an August 2020 WTOP report, the other 40 people arrested during the BLM protest had their charges immediately dropped; Ketchem’s was the only case that proceeded. Court records show that the charges against Ketchem went through the legal process for almost two years before the prosecutor declined to proceed just a few days prior to her scheduled trial date in late July 2022. Bennett-Parker defended Ketchem’s actions at the time.
The public pages of Ketchem’s Instagram and Facebook pages both contain the statement, “My opinions are my own and not the views of my employer.”
Expecting a nice meal
Yaniv had come to the district from his Boston-area home for the Nov. 14, 2023, “March for Israel,” which was attended by “tens of thousands” of people, according to the Associated Press. He was wearing a t-shirt with both American and Israeli flags and the words, “I stand with Israel” – though the shirt was initially covered by a jacket he kept on while sitting at his outside table.
“The march was very peaceful,” Yaniv recalled. “It was pretty uplifting for people who are experiencing what I’m experiencing right now [following the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel].”
Yaniv had a few hours to spend until the departure time of his train to New York, where he was going for business, which is how he ended up at Bar Chinois.
“I looked for a bar or a restaurant to eat something and I found that place on some review. It looked like a nice place. … At some point during my meal I was a bit warm and so I opened the jacket,” Yaniv said. “And I guess that’s what got this waitress triggered.”
Yaniv said Ketchem did not say anything to him, but he noticed that she was distant.
“She kind of put my drink at the edge of the table. She forgot to bring me the sauce, or to give me a knife and fork,” Yaniv said. “I said to myself, ‘OK, I’m getting some bad service.’ It was busy but this was pretty bad. And then when I got the check, I was actually speechless.”
Yaniv said it took him a few minutes to process what had happened.
“I didn’t even know what to feel because it’s something I’ve never experienced before in my life.”
Yaniv said he went inside and asked for a manager, who was apologetic about the incident.
“I told her, ‘This is not acceptable. What is going on here?’ And she looked at [the receipt] and she seemed in shock and she said, ‘Oh, of course I want to apologize. I don’t know what to say.’ She was surprised. Obviously she saw Cassidy [waiting on me],” Yaniv said.
Yaniv said he asked the manager for the name of the restaurant’s owner, and the manager gave him a name. At this point it was time for him to catch his train, so he took his suitcase and started walking toward Union Station. But he was still seething over the incident.
“I didn’t know what to do,” Yaniv said. “But I was very, very upset. After a few minutes, I called the restaurant and asked for this supposed owner. Apparently she was there and she was attending the bar.”
The person Yaniv said he spoke with was Margaux Donati, who is listed on LinkedIn as the general manager of Bar Chinois.
“She seemed to know what happened, but she said, ‘Oh, I’m busy at the bar right now.’ But I asked, ‘Do you think it’s acceptable? A customer of yours sits down and has a meal and gets this check with political or offensive views from my perspective?’”
Yaniv said Donati seemed annoyed that he was bothering her while she was working at the bar.
“Her response … stuck with me because it felt a bit arrogant, she said, ‘In case you don’t know, this is a free country,’” Yaniv said.
Donati’s response stunned Yaniv.
“I’ve lived here for 11 years. I’m a U.S. citizen. I’ve kind of read what the U.S. is about so I don’t need a lecture. She also said, ‘And I’m not going to tell my employees what to say or not to say,’” Yaniv said.
Yaniv contends that speech can be free, but still have consequences.
“I suggest she goes and looks up what free speech actually means,” Yaniv said.
Yaniv said the whole incident, Ketchem’s action and the response of Bar Chinois’ general manager, left him feeling threatened and vulnerable.
“[Ketchem] decided to express her opinion with my check. But as soon as she profiled someone or decided that this is more than a customer, then what else is she [going to do]? She’s handling my food. She’s handling my drink. I don’t know what else she might decide to do,” Yaniv said. “I don’t feel safe at that point.”
Yaniv said he hung up dissatisfied with his conversation with Donati, got on his train and was en route to New York when he got a text message from Dean Mosones and Mark Minicucci, who are co-owners of Bar Chinois. Mosones and Minicucci apologized in the text and said they wanted to speak with Yaniv.
They talked later that night after Yaniv arrived in New York in what Yaniv described as a cordial conversation.
“When I explained my vulnerability, I didn’t feel safe; how offensive I find it if you think about what happened October 7. How the Jewish people are feeling right now, et cetera. They again expressed that they don’t agree with what happened.
“They said to me, ‘We are going to have a meeting tomorrow and we are going to let her go because we don’t think that’s acceptable,’” Yaniv said. “I’m not out for revenge. I thought that they should not be keeping her as someone who provides service to their customers.”
Yaniv said he thanked Mosones and Minicucci for their responsiveness and pledged not to make a fuss about the incident.
“But it bugged me that I actually didn’t know if they just sweet talked me or what,” Yaniv said. “So a month later I called the restaurant and asked for her. And they said, ‘Oh, she’s here but she’s busy.’ I went, ‘That’s weird.’ Obviously, they did not do anything.”
Yaniv sent a text message to Mosones and Minicucci expressing his disappointment.
“Mosones tried calling me and I didn’t want to answer,” Yaniv said. “He left me a voicemail that said something like, ‘We had a meeting. We decided not to take action. Call me and I will explain more.’ I wrote him, ‘Please don’t waste any more of my time.’”
Mosones confirmed in a text exchange and phone conversation with the Times that he and Minicucci did engage with Yaniv after the incident and that, in the end, they did not fire Ketchem for her action.
Mosones emailed the following statement to the Times:
“As a business with Asian American and Jewish co-owners, diversity and inclusiveness are core values of our restaurant. We obviously take this incident very seriously and immediately apologized to the guest and suspended Cassidy without pay. After further conversations with the guest, Cassidy and our entire staff, we chose to turn this into a teaching moment by reinforcing our commitment to providing an inclusive and respectful environment for all our guests and staff.”
Ketchem did not respond to a direct message to her Facebook page asking for comment for this story. Bennett-Parker sent the following statement when asked to comment on the November 14 incident at Bar Chinois involving her former aide:
“Cassidy’s last day working for me was Dec. 31, 2021. To my knowledge, she has neither lived nor worked in Alexandria in more than two years. While I have no knowledge of or connection to this alleged incident, I reaffirm my commitment to stand up against antisemitism and Islamophobia.”