When a white nationalist group found out Andrew Woods worked at the Pizza Peel in Plaza Midwood, he expected to be fired. What he didn’t expect was to be greeted by three police officers when he arrived last Thursday for the meeting with his Human Resources Manager.
For a week, a group called Deplorable Pride, which describes themselves as
“proud nationalists,” had bombarded the Pizza Peel’s online reviews and phone lines demanding Woods be fired. The group is led by a man named Brian Talbert who was arrested last year for punching a woman in the face at a protest. They’ve called for all Muslims to be banned from the United States and wiped from the face of the Earth.
They claimed they were upset by a recent Facebook post Woods had made, in which he said white Republicans were fascist and islamophobic, had no right to safety or comfort, and should be done “brutal harm”. They combined the text of this post to a photo of him speaking out against ICE raids at a City Council meeting last month, and attached the graphic to every 1-star Pizza Peel review they made.
This wasn’t the first time they’d targeted Woods. In the Fall of 2018, Woods agreed to leave his bartending job at Divine Barrel after Deplorable Pride scheduled a rally to protest his employment there. “At the time, I had my employer listed on my social media because I wasn’t aware there was a threat to me,” says Woods. “They also circulated my address and pictures of my family to far right hate groups online. They sent me a photo of my house taken from my front yard.” He’s unsure how they found out where he worked this time, as he no longer lists such things online.
Woods thinks Deplorable Pride first took notice of him after he protested at a Trump rally. He had also been a highly visible protestor at ICE headquarters last summer, when ICE began its policy of child separation and detention. “Deplorable Pride has this view that muslims don’t belong in the United States. I’m not a muslim, but they’re under the impression I am,” he says. “Their other primary complaint is I’m a communist and they hate communism.”
“They like to depict me as violent, even though no protest action I’ve ever taken has been violent. From a visual perspective, I fall well into the archetype of violent minority male. I’m a burly dude with a bald head, beard & tattoos.”
Woods says he understands why some might be afraid of him, but not his managers at the Pizza Peel: “Someone takes a pic of me yelling into a microphone and takes the most inflammatory thing I’ve ever said on social media with no context, and uses it to terrorize people. If you’re a stranger, fine. I’m not ashamed of any words I say, so read them in whatever context you’d like. But if you work beside me for months and I’m never, in any respect, threatening or violent to my coworkers, the guests, or the property, and you still perpetuate an act of violence against me (calling the police), that feels more like malice than fear.”
What Does the Company Say?
Stomp Chomp and Roll, the organization which owns the Pizza Peel and The Improper Pig brands, as well as two local Flying Biscuit franchises, says their protocol requires them to call the police if they perceive a threat. “There was a threat on multiple sides and we needed to ensure the safety of the building,” said owner Will Bigham. “If you look at the posts that were out there, there was harm that was said on both sides. We have children that come to our pizza place all the time. If police officers are there, we have somewhat control of the environment”
Despite Deplorable Pride bombarding the restaurant with calls and reviews the entire previous week, staff did not call authorities until they fired Woods. “If (Deplorable Pride) had shown up to protest, then we would’ve called (police). We have a very strong relationship with our Eastway division. For us as a company, when it comes to the police, this was not an attack on Andrew or his heritage or his skin color. We are accountable and responsible for every single person in this building, whether it’s a patron or not. It’s a matter of keeping the community as a whole safe. The gentleman who administered his termination (their HR manager) wasn’t even aware of what his skin color was,” said Chris Soto, social media and marketing manager for the Pizza Peel.
Stomp Chomp and Roll says this is not the first time they’ve called the police to be present during a termination.
I asked members of the organization what they would say to those communities who may feel less safe in their establishment, knowing they have no hesitation summoning a police presence. I got a variety of responses:
“What I know to be true if we go back to our vision and mission is that we are here to fill bellies and create an experience in a comfortable environment and that’s what we do,” said Soto.
“I may not fully understand what that unsafe environment feels like, but we would hate for that to be someone’s reasoning or understanding, when it wasn’t their experience themselves, to keep them from coming and enjoying our establishment as a good time. We are open and loving to every single person. I’m a Latino, gay male who works for this company.”
Darius Amidi, Operations Manager seemed to speak directly to Woods, in response to his social media posts after he was fired: “You’re hurting those people who are just everyday people, who work for us because they love what we bring to the table: our passion for food, their families, making a comfortable environment so they can hang out and enjoy themselves. I’m half-Iranian. I don’t look at people in color or nationality. It doesn’t matter to me and nor was it considered in the hiring moment. We hire everybody. We hire people who have the same passion we do. And sometimes when you get to know people, you find out that maybe we’re not alike. Maybe we don’t love the same things or have the same passion for the neighborhood we’re in, or the guests we work with, or the people we serve.”
“The post that he put out there threatening bodily harm and violence to people also has to play into this,” added Bigham. “So for the person who is coming in here, feeling brutality from or not comfortable with police, there’s also a person who walked in who spoke multiple things about bodily harm to people. And that’s not what we’re about.”
Amber, who works in HR for Stomp Chomp and Roll: “How would we communicate to someone who now says ‘I don’t feel safe?’ The thing I always try to take into consideration in my mind is I go back to Martin Luther King, Jr., who had this beautiful quote that said ‘Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.’ And for me it goes back to that. As strongly as we feel about the hatred that’s surrounding us right now, we can’t drive it out with more hatred.” (Amber declined to give her last name for the record, saying that because of her nationality, she was terrified of hate groups knowing it.)
Soto assures if anyone were to come in and say police presence makes them feel unsafe, they’d be heard. “Can we stand with them – especially as white people or white passing? Absolutely.” He mentions his involvement in an event the company supports called Cops on the Block, in which they worked with CMPD to support the Special Olympics.
“We heard from our community of Plaza Midwood and those people who felt unsafe by the police presence. He said they worked with a nonprofit to have a tent up that day in which bold community conversations could be had. “The point was to bring those who protect and serve into a different light”
“I would invite those people (who may feel unsafe) to come in,” said Bigham. “Talk to the people who work here. Ask them if they feel comfortable in this environment. Shoot me a message, I’ll meet them there. I’ll sit down with them and talk to them”
Accepting the Invite
Bigham had issued the same sort of “come sit down and we’ll talk” invitation to me after I posted on Facebook that Pizza Peel called the police to fire Woods at the request of a hate group. I accepted the offer and looked forward to discussing the matter with him at the restaurant. When I was on my way, I was contacted by the restaurant’s Facebook page and asked to meet at the corporate office of Stomp Chomp and Roll instead. There, I was met at the door by Bigham, who led me upstairs and opened the door to a room filled with eight people.
It’s an experience I’ve never had before in the seven years I’ve been a reporter. Sitting around the table was a racially diverse group of company employees. Those who commented and were minorities each mentioned their race to me when they spoke. There was a single visibly Black person at the table who said nothing during the interview.
Several times during the interview, I was questioned by Amidi about my own thoughts and intentions. I shared what I felt the community concerns were and assured him this would not be an editorial piece. At the end of the interview, Bigham accused me of slandering the business in my original Facebook post. I asked him if he disputed that they’d fired Woods because Deplorable Pride had demanded it. He responded, “it was a safety thing”
The Stomp Chomp and Roll round table all agreed they’d never heard of Deplorable Pride before the group began calling the restaurant. Woods disputes this.
“One of the owners of Divine Barrel is the former General Manager of Pizza Peel. The Assistant GM of Pizza Peel is married to who I believe is the GM of Divine Barrel. They were very aware of what happened at Divine Barrel, who Deplorable Pride is and what events transpired there.”
But an Email
“I’m prepared to lose a job at any point,” says Woods. “I understand that there are situations in which my personal beliefs can’t be reconciled with the lawyers’ official position.
A week before I was fired, my GM told me Deplorable Pride was threatening to come out & it would be best if I took the week off and we’d figure out some shifts later down the road. She assured me that neither she nor the owner cared about my social media posts. I said ‘hey look if it comes to a point where you feel like I can’t continue with the company, the only thing I request is that you terminate me in an email so I have a written record of it.”
There is no NC law stating an employee must be physically present in order to terminate them.
Woods says as of today he has not received anything in writing regarding his termination.
But he says that’s not his primary concern.
“I’m outraged at the preemptive use of the police as a threatening tactic against a person of color, and the weaponization of police against the minority community by someone who makes their living gentrifying a minority community.”
A Tragic Wake Up Call
On Monday morning, police shot and killed a Black man at Burger King #3154 on Beatties Ford Rd. Some eyewitnesses have said he was unarmed. The investigation is ongoing. Golden B Enterprises, owned by Will Bigham’s father, is the group behind Stomp Chomp and Roll. And according to the Golden B Enterprises website, it also owns Burger King #3154.