Action in Dahlonega: Piazza Owner Opens New Restaurants, Refuses to Pay Workers at Restaurants He Closed — Update

From some friends at Action in Dahlonega:

Update 4/23/2015:
We have reports through our contacts that, after last week’s pressure, they have received paychecks and they  DID clear. A full update on the situation is available here. Thanks to the Dahlonega community for their overwhelming support and to the workers for sticking with it to make this happen. Solidarity! 

Update 4/16/2015:
Action in Dahlonega has received word that, since our original story went viral and thanks to a tremendous outpouring of support and pressure from the Lumpkin County community, Meyer sent a text message to several of the affected workers that their final paychecks are being processed and mailed out today. We’ll continue to keep up the pressure until our fellow workers have the money they earned in their hands, but this seems like a promising development. We’ll post a follow-up article once we have more information.

Update 4/15/2015:
Meyer publicly stated on Facebook and in text messages sent to some former workers that they would get paid “when Piazza is sold.” He has thus far refused to commit anything in writing or tell workers what they are owed. He has also stated he is not the owner of the new restaurants despite the Smoke Signals article, in which he’s quoted, suggesting otherwise. On Tuesday, his LinkedIn profile indicated he was the owner of Piazza, Main Street Burger, and Forks (it’s since been changed). 

We reiterate our demand that Meyer pay the workers what they’re owed to avoid further public action by Action in Dahlonega or legal action by exploited workers.


It appears Piazza, an Italian restaurant near the Dahlonega square, and Main Street Burger have (at least temporarily) closed up shop, but their owner keeps cooking up something rotten. He’s left some workers  out of a job and without the wages they’re owed.

Action in Dahlonega members have spoken with former Piazza and Main Street workers over the course of several months and this appears to be nothing new. According to them, it was not unusual for paychecks to arrive late, if at all, or for the owner and managers to offer alternative methods of payment (such as beer).

A logo for Ed & Lucy's Bistro, established 2015

A logo for Ed & Lucy’s Bistro, established 2015

The owner of Piazza is/was David Meyer, an Art Institute of Atlanta Culinary graduate and Dahlonega resident who has been in the restaurant business for over 15 years. He has since opened several restaurants near Big Canoe and Marble Hill, including Forks, Ed & Lucy’s Bistro, and Revered Billy’s BBQ. Whether Piazza, Main Street Burger, or any of the other restaurants operated by Meyer are struggling financially, the fact remains that workers, many of whom are University of North Georgia students, worked to keep the doors open as long as they could. There’s no reason to think Meyer won’t treat workers at these new restaurants with the same disregard.

Despite the closing and his continued refusal to pay workers what they’re owed. it doesn’t appear Meyer is any worse for the wear. Meyer continues  to operate and pour their efforts into new business ventures (the new restaurants opened in late 2015/early 2015) and line his pockets with money earned by our fellow workers in Dahlonega.

A photo of Meyer from his Facebook page.

A photo of Meyer from his Facebook page.

As friends, neighbors, and comrades of those exploited by Meyer and company, we stand in solidarity with the workers of Piazza, Main Street Burger, and Meyer’s new restaurants. We will work with those who have dedicated, and continue to dedicate, their time and labor to serve Dahlonega’s residents and visitors.

If Pizza and Main Street do re-open, we will take the fight to Meyer to make sure the workers’ voices are heard. In the meantime, we intend to make clear that exploitation of workers in our community will not, and must not, be tolerated. Meyer must do right by our fellow workers on whose backs they’ve built their business.
More information on Meyer’s new ventures: http://bigcanoenews.com/news/news-col1/big-canoe/6514-three-restaurants-to-open-at-north-gate-station
http://www.bigcanoenews.com/news/news-col1/pickens-county/6847-forks-deli-opens-at-north-gate-station

Contact Info for Meyer’s new restaurants:
Forks: 60 Northgate Station, Jasper, Georgia 30143 / phone: (706) 429.8530
Ed & Lucy’s Bistro: 60 Northgate Station, Jasper, Georgia 30143 / phone: (706) 608.8000
Reverend Billy’s BBQ: 60 Northgate Station, Jasper, Georgia 30143 / phone: (678) 787.2427

Confronting Dahlonega’s History: A Brief Statement About Forgetting Our Brutal Past

For several months now, Action in Dahlonega has been quietly trying to bring attention to troubling accounts of history in Lumpkin County and North Georgia, especially pertaining to the downplay of the Trail of Tears and human slavery. We have worked with local people of Cherokee descent to bring attention to some of the troubling signs around Dahlonega, we have approached the Lumpkin County Historical Society for help modifying of removing these signs (which they effectively have refused to do), and done some of our own research on these matters. Here’s a brief statement on why we find this problematic. We will have a much more in-depth look at the handling of local history and corresponding public actions soon.   

Dahlonega is filled with warm, generous, friendly people, but we’re not without our problems. Like anyplace else, Dahlonega has its own version of local history that often discounts the worst points of what actually happened.

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The sign on the Dahlonega Square, placed by the Lumpkin County Historical Society and the City of Dahlonega

A prominent sign on the square reads: “The Gold Rush Days Festival each October recalls the Georgia Gold Rush of 1829 with the bittersweet echo of the forced removal of the Cherokee in 1838 along the Trail of Tears.“ This sign was placed by the Lumpkin County Historical Society and is one of few local mentions of the Trail of Tears. It represents a disturbing trend of attempts by local officials and the LCHS to reframe our history.

Local historical accounts, including the sign in question and the Maibaum History Tree in Hancock Park, frame the Gold Rush as the precipitating event leading to the Cherokee removal and seek to absolve local governments of responsibility; but the actual history reveals a much different story. The Cherokee and Creek people’s fate was sealed from the moment the first white settler colonialists landed in Georgia. From the colony’s founding, James Edward Oglethorpe had his eyes set on the area, relenting only after natives put up fierce resistance.

There was nothing “bittersweet” about the Trail of Tears. It was nothing less than an act of genocide in a long and concerted effort to exterminate this country’s native people. The Cherokee were illegally removed from their homeland, a sovereign nation, and forced to relocate to a foreign land. Approximately 17,000 died on the journey. Some remained in the area, either as second-class citizens married to white settlers or by fleeing deeper into the mountains.

Maibaum History Tree, Hancock Park, Dahlonega. It suggests a steady progress from wild animals to apparently “primitive” indigenous people to a modern civilization dominated by white settlers.

Maibaum History Tree, Hancock Park, Dahlonega. It suggests a steady progress from wild animals to apparently “primitive” indigenous people to a modern civilization dominated by white settlers.

That the brutal struggles the Cherokee and Creek people endured is framed as anything other than what it was is something we all must confront. Replacing signs like those mentioned above, while absolutely necessary, is only a first step. We need to face the awful truth about what happened to the original residents of our area and work with them toward making it right. A good start might be working to create a monument acknowledging the loss experienced by victims of the Trail of Tears. At the very least, we should ensure local historical accounts boasting about the area’s connection to gold accurately reflect the darker side of that legacy.

As descendants of people who colonized this nation and brutally forced its original inhabitants out, we bear a responsibility to correct those acts — not just to ease our collective conscience, but because the descendants of  those original inhabitants are our neighbors and deserve our acceptance and to have their pain recognized.

Dahlonega is a beautiful community and we should preserve our distinct culture and the sense of connectedness we share with our neighbors, but we also bear a heavy burden to those who paid the ultimate price so we can be here and have an obligation to accept people from all backgrounds into our community.

To get involved or to learn more about Action in Dahlonega’s efforts to remove the sign email us at action.in.dahlonega@gmail.com or check us out on Facebook

For more on local responses to the sign and the Trail of Tears:
https://actionindahlonega.wordpress.com/2015/03/24/trail-of-tears-remembrance-day-the-struggle-continues/
https://actionindahlonega.wordpress.com/2015/02/17/issues-of-local-historical-concern/
https://actionindahlonega.wordpress.com/2015/02/22/historical-and-present-marginalization-of-the-cherokee-people-and-slaves-in-north-georgia/

Statement from Action in Dahlonega: Dahlonega Nugget Cover Story Reinforces Oppressive Attitudes

Here’s a statement from the local Action in Dahlonega collective about the ongoing controversy around the University of North Georgia’s continuing education catalog and its implicit racist and sexist attitudes:

The cover story of the March 25th edition of the Dahlonega Nugget features the now infamous University of North Georgia catalog cover (more details here) that has made national news for reflecting racist and sexist stereotypes and isolating women and minority students.

The article seems to reflect a clear bias in favor of the photograph, or at least goes out of its way to excuse it. The only people directly quoted in the article are school administrator Kate Maine and journalism student Hunter Leger. Maine condemns the photograph but insists it was a stock photo, implying at least part of the blame lies elsewhere. Leger, explains that other students took issue with the school’s use of the photograph, but dismisses those who found it problematic trying to “[pacify] the crowd that would seek to deem anything they’re uncomfortable with as racist.”

It should be noted that Leger, the only UNG student quoted in the article, and the article’s writer are both white men. The fact that this happened on an issue directly relating to people of color and women only reinforces our argument that white supremacy and patriarchy are deeply woven into the fabric of our culture. Academic institutions and the media consistently place more value on the voices of white men than those of marginalized groups. The writer failed to mention why certain people found the catalog cover racist and sexist, instead referring to urban media sources like the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and New York Magazine, or second-hand accounts from Maine and Leger.

The fact that the Nugget didn’t interview any black or non-male students for the article is not merely lazy, it reflects a troubling attitude that pervades our modern media. In an era when black men and women are murdered by police and news outlets scramble to dig up criminal records or inflammatory Facebook photographs of the victims, we can’t rely on the media to provide objective coverage or give voice to these victims.

Even if UNG and the Nugget learn from this experience, the changes will most likely be superficial. Many schools and newspapers know how to properly handle the language and imagery around race and gender, but the structural problems that form the foundation of white supremacy and patriarchy in our society remain. Even when the voices and experiences of marginalized groups are included, they’re lost or ignored in a culture that has been conditioned to give them less value.

The unfortunate truth is, the photograph an entirely accurate depiction of social relations in modern America. Even when we’ve learned how to not sound racist or sexist, racism and sexism still thrive. We must continue to fight not only oppressive words and images, but the structural conditions that oppress and exclude people of color and women and place more value on the opinions of white men than those of any other group.

Trail of Tears Remembrance Day: The Struggle Continues

Today marks the 176th anniversary of the arrival of the final group of Cherokee, who were forcibly removed from their homes, in the present-day state of Oklahoma. It’s also the 2nd annual “Trail of Tears Remembrance Day.”

A statement from the Action in Dahlonega collective on the Trail of Tears and resistance by the Cherokee people:

Trail of Tears Remembrance Day: The Struggle Continues.

Racist/Sexist UNG Catalog Cover ReflectsBroader Attitudes

This week the University of North Georgia apologized for publishing a continuing education catalog that features two white men in business suits beating a more casually-dressed black man and a woman in high heels in a race. The image was quickly called out for its racist and sexist overtones. The school has called the incident an “isolated case of poor judgment” and claimed that any offense was “unintentional.” They went on to express their commitment to diversity and made vague promises to do better in the future.

Now that the school has apologized, those who took offense are presumably expected to (as the media no doubt will) sweep these events under the rug, along with the countless other racist and sexist incidents that have dotted our academic and cultural landscapes. But the very fact that this image was produced and made it to the front page of a catalog and the web site of a major university speaks volumes to the ongoing pervasiveness of white supremacist and sexist attitudes in our community and at the University of North Georgia.

The state of Georgia has one of the highest percentages of people of color in the country, but the UNG student body and faculty are both over 80% white. This fact alone is troubling. The continuing marginalization of minorities and women at the school and in our community is unacceptable. The fact that there aren’t more claims of racism against minority students at UNG speaks more to the homogeneity of the community, and the attitude that minority students are expected to conform to white campus culture, than any lack of racism among the student body or faculty.

Nor is UNG the only school guilty of this sort of behavior. Colleges and universities across the country are constantly forced to make apologies like this. The racist chants of the University of Oklahoma’s Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, which has a chapter at UNG, are still fresh in most of our minds and minority students at the University of Georgia rallied against racism and homophobia on their campus in 2013.

The racist and sexist attitudes that infect our academic institutions only reflect the ongoing white supremacy and patriarchy of our broader culture. They are symptoms of a larger institutional problem. We can, and certainly should, continue to call them out, but we must recognize that these problems are a core feature of American culture.

Apologies may serve to ease our collective guilt, but they do nothing to put an end to the damage wreaked by white supremacy and patriarchy in our society. In an age where college age men of color are more than 5 times more likely than their white counterparts to die from police violence and women, even when they earn college degrees, are expected to have careers and still fulfill their traditional role of unpaid domestic labor, we must demand more. Racism and sexism in our school and communities will end only when we stand up to put an end to it ourselves.

More on the UNG situation:
http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2015/03/joyful-white-guys-finish-ahead-of-struggling-woman-and-black-man-in-this-universitys-catalog/#.VQsScfvSjxo.facebook
http://www.collegefactual.com/colleges/north-georgia-college-and-state-university/student-life/diversity/

Further reading on sexism and racism in academia :
http://scienceline.org/2014/11/some-hard-science-on-sexism-in-academia/
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/khanh-ho/presumed-incompetent_b_2778384.html
http://onlineathens.com/uga/2013-11-08/march-uga-campus-friday-protests-racist-homophobic-taunts
http://amarillo.com/news/latest-news/2013-11-07/racist-facebook-post-sparks-controversy-uga

Police killings of young black men in the US:
http://www.cjcj.org/news/8113
http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/08/police-shootings-michael-brown-ferguson-black-men