Saying that guns have been drawn inside and outside the restaurant and that employees have been harassed by unruly customers, the owners of Mid City Grill have decided to discontinue their late night service — maybe permanently.
The restaurant announced the change in a Facebook post earlier this month, also citing a large increase in customers walking out without paying and a “complete disregard” for staff and property. The business has since deleted its Facebook page, noting that it has received angry comments from people since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Before COVID-19, Mid City Grill was operating a late-night menu Tuesday through Saturday until 4 a.m. After briefly closing during the early stages of the pandemic, the owners pared the late-night hours to just Friday and Saturday.
Now, according to Mid City’s website, the restaurant is operating from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. with a break in the afternoon. The owners are also working on adding lunch and dinner service on Sunday.
“For the staff and for the restaurant itself, it just seemed like the best option,” Mid City Grill co-owner Dave Garnett said Tuesday.
The owners were already a little hesitant about reopening for late-night service after the restaurant temporarily closed, Garnett said. Before their hiatus, he said, someone was pushed through a window.
Unlike a bar, the restaurant doesn’t have bouncers and has relied on servers to keep customers in check, he said, which wasn’t realistic. Garnett said safety concerns have become more frequent over the years. Previously, it was people getting too drunk, too worked up or a combination of the two.
“But you never really had the escalations or guns or the stuff that it had become,” Garnett said. “The physical altercations definitely are on the rise.”
In general, Garnett said, the vibe of the downtown area late at night seems to have changed.
“(You’d) see these people getting drunk and acting like idiots and nothing really came of it, and now it’s not like that,” Garnett said. “There are shootings, there’s fights galore.”
More recently, police responded to a shooting at downtown’s Tipton Street Pub shortly after 1 a.m. on Friday. The incident left one man dead and another charged with second-degree murder.
What do the police say?
Even during the height of the pandemic, Chief Karl Turner said, the Johnson City Police Department has paid extra officers overtime to patrol the downtown area.
Over the past three months, off-duty officers have spent on average 135 hours per month in the downtown area. During the same time period, Turner said, officers working overtime have averaged per month about 100 extra patrols, 27 foot patrols and 50 calls for service.
Additionally, the department added a second full-time officer in the downtown area in August.
Turner said the police department is doing what it can to create a safe environment in downtown Johnson City.
“It’s still a partnership with the community as far as helping us with that environment,” he said. “I would say that if someone sees something that alarms them that they call 911.”
Officers try to be proactive, Turner said, but they also the need the assistance of the general public and the business community.
What’s a recent incident?
At around 4 a.m. on Oct. 2, an officer responded to multiple calls claiming there was a man with a gun at Mid City Grill.
According to a police report, the complainant, a manager at the restaurant, said the man had entered the business to eat and was acting “strange” toward other customers. The manager asked the customer to leave and escorted him outside.
The man then drove his vehicle, a red Ford F150, from the nearby Founders Park Pavilion to the business and reached in the back of his truck, saying, “I got something back here for you.”
According to the police report, the complainant said no one saw the man pull a weapon, but one of the restaurant’s employees drew his personal carry pistol and told everyone to get back inside the restaurant. The suspect then left.
The following night, the man returned to Mid City Grill. The manager called the police, and the responding officer approached the man, who smelled of alcohol and was evasive about the events of the previous night, according to the police report.
The manager told the customer that he was banned from the business, and the officer advised him that if he returned to the restaurant he could face a citation or an arrest.
Garnett said Sunday that the police report describing the incident on Oct. 2 was “disturbingly wrong,” adding that none of Mid City Grill's employees pulled a firearm.
“Shame on the chief for saying businesses need to work with them when they have officers who aren't even willing to try and pursue real issues,” he said.
He sent a video of the altercation, which appears to show a man pointing a gun at a motorist in a red truck as they pull away.
“Neither one of these (are) employees of ours and they both should (have) been charged … ,” Garnett said. “Especially since they both had been drinking, but nothing was done, just like nothing was done when a man pushed someone through our window.”