Vietnamese restaurant Le Bon, in Sunnyvale, California, is recovering after a window was shattered and a disturbing note with racist slurs was left at the establishment over the weekend.
Charlie Tran, who operates the restaurant with his business partner Jeffrey Nguyen, told TODAY Food that this was the first time he had heard about a hate crime in their area. While he was aware of rising violence against Asian Americans, he said that this was the first time their restaurant had been the target.
"When it actually happens to you, it makes you realize that it can happen to anyone," Tran said. "… It's just scary."
Tran said when he first arrived at the restaurant on Saturday, April 24, and saw the broken windows, he believed it was just vandalism — the hair salon next to Le Bon had had its windows broken several years ago, and there had been some break-ins at a liquor store on the other side of the restaurant — but as he tidied up the broken glass, he found a note inside the restaurant.
"I never really thought anyone would do something like that," Tran said. "When I was sweeping inside, I saw the note next to our fridge, this crumpled piece of paper … I didn't think much of it, but when I opened it I was like 'F—, this is a f—ing hate crime."
Tran said he called police, who quickly arrived at the restaurant. Nothing was stolen, but Tran said that since the restaurant's cameras had been turned off to save money during the pandemic, there are few leads about potential suspects.
Sunnyvale mayor Larry Klein told TODAY in a statement that the city is "saddened" by the incident.
"We take pride in Sunnyvale’s diverse and inclusive culture," said Klein, who has visited the restaurant and spoken with Tran and Nguyen. "We’re saddened by this terrible act and it does not reflect our community values. Extremism and hate aren’t welcome in Sunnyvale and hate crimes will not be tolerated."
While Tran said he hadn't heard of any other incidents in their area, it wasn't the first time that the rise in hate crimes had hit close to home: Just a few weeks ago, his father had been harassed while leaving a grocery store.
"This happened to my dad already," he said; in the incident described, he said his father was backing his car out of a parking spot. "A car stopped in front of him and stopped him from reversing out, and then two people came out and started calling him (racist slurs). He didn't do anything, just rolled down his window and said, 'I'm American, I don't want any trouble,' and then luckily they didn't do anything, just yelled at him. Luckily, he got away safe."
Recent research, released by the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University, found that there has been a "historic" increase in hate crimes against Asian Americans in the past year. According to the research, hate crimes in 15 major cities in the first quarter of 2021 had increased by 169% compared to the same time period last year.
Tran said that, while Le Bon has received lots of support online and offers of donations, he plans to reject any GoFundMes or other types of financial support. Instead, he's elevating a list of foundations and organizations that he would ask people to donate to instead.
"Right now, it's just a window," said Tran. "No one was hurt, nothing was stolen. Donating to these places, I believe, would help definitely more than just donating to us right now."
He said the community support has helped as they return to normal operations.
"The window might be broken, but we're still doing what we love to do," said Tran. "This is not going to break our spirit."
EDITOR'S NOTE (April 30, 2021, 9:36 a.m. EST): This article has been updated with a statement from Mayor Larry Klein.