Racial allegations put spin on shut-down of hip-hop show

Sean Madigan

and Nichol Nelson
In less than a year, a small Dinkytown juice and sub shop became a mecca for Minneapolis’ grassroots hip-hop movement. Yet despite the popularity of the Sunday night shows, the building’s owner is pulling the plug.
Headspin, the hip-hop showcase featured at Dinkytown’s Bon Appetit every Sunday night, was called to a halt two weeks ago. Some performers and concert-goers claim the cancellation was racially motivated, but city officials say Bon Appetit simply did not have licensing for the type of shows it was hosting.
Zach Combs, one of Headspin’s promoters, was performing the night the building’s owner showed up with the intent to stop the music.
Combs said Shirley Peterson arrived at Bon Appetit during the show, angrily brandishing a copy of The Source. The music magazine featured an article on the hip-hop scene in Minneapolis and included Bon Appetit in the piece. Combs said Peterson demanded the music to be shut off and told people to leave. Bon Appetit owner Samir Elkhoury asked the show’s organizers to shut down about a half hour early, Combs said.
Combs and another show promoter had brought a copy of The Source to the Dinkytown Business Association to show members the positive press their show was receiving. Combs said members admitted they showed the article to Peterson.
Although some show promoters said Peterson used racial slurs the night of her visit, no one would confirm the allegations. Peterson declined to be interviewed and refused to comment on the incident.
Elkhoury said he was advised not to talk about the show’s cancellation, but did say he expected things to go back to normal when the situation had “cooled down.”
When contacted earlier in the week, Elkhoury said the shows would resume in two weeks. But Wednesday he said he was unsure of the show’s future.

The beginnings
Bon Appetit originally opened as a juice and sandwich bar, but soon acquired city permission to serve beer. Elkhoury slowly developed the cafe’s back room into a casual hangout, complete with pool tables and dark, cozy booths.
About a year ago, Elkhoury permitted a group of hip-hop promoters to use his back room on a trial basis. The music proved enormously popular, drawing crowds of more than 200 people each week. The concerts ran for almost 50 weeks with little trouble.
Angry concert organizers claim Elkhoury is the victim of neighborhood pressure to conform.
“I think they got a thing about the image of Dinkytown. They want to keep it a real clean, middle-class white neighborhood,” Ben Granger, one of Headspin’s promoters, said about the businesses surrounding Bon Appetit.
Dean Brewington, an emcee for the Abstract Pack — a group which occasionally performs at Headspin — concurred: “Venues never get shut down unless they are hip-hop oriented or black oriented.”
But Barry Bolsold, vice president of the Dinkytown Business Association, disagreed. He said Dinkytown boasts an abundance of diversity.
“This is absolutely not a racial issue,” Bolsold said.
The association had numerous confrontations with Elkhoury about his business practices, Bolsold said.
“He’s been in hot water for exceeding his license activities four or five times,” Bolsold said. “The opinion common among us is Samir feels like the rules are not meant for him.”
Bolsold wouldn’t comment on the specifics of Elkhoury’s license violations.

No static from the fuzz
Bolsold said the sheer number of people attending the Sunday night shows posed a danger. But members of Headspin said the Sunday night spin was a peaceful event.
“I’ve been in Dinkytown before and seen people doing much worse things: drunkenness, fighting,” Brewington said. “It was a close knit group of people, a really good environment.”
Police reports support Brewington’s claim. In the last 18 months, police responded to 10 calls at Bon Appetit. Fowl Play, a popular sports bar located around the corner, logged 40 calls in the same time frame and police were called to Dubs, a Dinkytown bar and grill, 35 times.
None of the calls to Bon Appetit were for violent behavior, while both Fowl Play and Dubs logged numerous calls for aggressive behavior and fighting.
No license to ill
Accounts differ about the kind of music Bon Appetit was allowed to host. Some say when Elkhoury proposed the addition of music to the back room, he told city officials the tunes would be low-key.
“When Samir came to the city to apply for an entertainment license, he proposed to have jazz, pop, light music,” said Grant Wilson, a city license inspector.
Wilson said Elkhoury did not notify the city of his intentions. If Elkhoury would have told the city he was planning to hold hip-hop or punk shows the city might or might not have granted him a license, Wilson added.
Wilson dispelled rumors that Elkhoury lacked a specific license for hip-hop or punk shows. He said no such license exists.
“It has nothing to do with the music,” Wilson said. “We give the same kind of license to a polka bar as we give to the Quest.”
Entertainment licenses are granted by the city in conjunction with liquor licenses. Elkhoury was granted a class C-1 license, which allows up to five musicians to play amplified music. In addition, a class C-1 license does not permit a dance floor.
Venues like the Quest and First Avenue are more suited for a class B license because of the urban nature of their location. Bon Appetit is located in a residential area.
Coffee shops that offer music typically have class D licenses which allow one musician to play a nonamplified instrument.
Wilson explained an establishment with a class C-1 should not have music that is audible outside of the building. Police responded once this year to a 911 call regarding a music disturbance at Bon Appetit.