JERSEY CITY, NJ - A complaint raised by a resident that the Ashford restaurant discriminated against African American customers has pulled Jersey City into a national conversation on race.      

A video posted on social media over the weekend appeared to show that staff at the Ashford, located on the Newark Avenue pedestrian plaza, enforced its dress code policy to deny a group of African American customers from dining inside, while allowing similarly dressed Caucasians access.

Charles Pace, who recently opened a photography studio in Jersey City, had been painting his studio, dressed in sweatpants, just before he went to the restaurant with a couple of friends on April 10 only to be denied entry.

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The video Pace posted to social media, has drawn nearly 700,000 viewings, as well as the attention of regional media. Pace said he brought the matter to the security person, who he claimed was rude, and the manager was equally unreceptive, although offered his group free drinks.

“Being black in America is being told you can’t come inside an establishment because you have on sweatpants, but you can sit outside, and as you sit outside you watch white people walk smoothly inside with sweatpants and hats to the back,” Pace, who said he specifically chose to open a photography studio in Jersey City because of its diversity, said with his video post.

Management did not respond to calls for comment, but co-owners by Kenneth Caulfield and Jeff Lam, did issue a written statement.

“The Ashford and Six26 has a multi-racial ownership group, employs a multi-racial team, and services a multi-racial community,” the statement said. “We are anti-racist. We will take action internally to ensure every team member meets this standard every day.”

Ward E Councilman James Solomon said the restaurant needs to take immediate action to correct the wrong and make certain the incident does not reoccur in the future.

Councilman Daniel Rivera said he and his friends had gone to the restaurant in the past after sporting events dressed in sweatpants and had been allowed inside.

The alleged double standard raises some concern among African American activists, who see it as reminiscent of Jim Crow Laws once prevalent in the deep south, where African Americans were not allowed to use the same facilities as whites, denied services in some businesses and were forced to ride the back of buses.

In 1960, four African American college students sat down at a lunch counter at Woolworth’s in Greensboro, North Carolina, and politely asked for service. Their request was refused. When asked to leave, they remained in their seats. Their passive resistance and peaceful sit-down demand helped ignite a youth-led movement to challenge racial inequality throughout the South.

The incident in Jersey City occurred in the heart of what is considered the most progressive parts of the city, and has raised concerns about awareness among some city officials.

Council President Joyce Watterman said the statement from the owners did not go far enough to resolve the problem.

“While I believe the owners didn’t likely know about how their staff was behaving, I think their statement should have included an apology. They should also have met with the whole staff to find out who did this. While it is good to have a diverse staff, the owners need to know what kind of behavior and they need to talk to their staff to find out.”

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