Coyote Jack's announces controversial makeover in Facebook post considered to be racist by some

Coyote Jack's announces controversial makeover in Facebook post considered to be racist by some

March 1st, 2019 by Allison Shirk Collins in Breaking News

Coyote Jack's Saloon is getting a makeover, according to general manager Daniel Weaver. The nightclub has been the site of ongoing violence over the past four years, and Weaver said it is necessary for them to make the changes in order for it to be a more welcoming and safe place for everyone.

Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.

This story was updated March 1, 2019, at 8:03 p.m. to correct the spelling of "backlash."

The downtown Chattanooga nightclub Coyote Jack's Saloon is getting a makeover that general manager Daniel Weaver said is a "necessary" change to make the club feel more safe and welcoming for everyone.

In a Facebook post on "The New Coyote Jacks of Chattanooga" page, Weaver wrote that the renovations at the nightclub would start on Tuesday. He said this would be the last weekend people could come out and enjoy the current venue before the nearly $500,000 renovations begin at 1400 Cowart St.

Screenshot of Coyote Jack's Facebook post.

Screenshot of Coyote Jack's Facebook post.

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

The club has come under fire in the community since its start over four years ago due to ongoing violence, including several shootings and homicides that have taken place at or around the club. The Chattanooga Police Department confirmed they responded to a "shots fired" call in the area of the club just this week on Sunday, Feb. 24, in the early morning hours.

Weaver wrote in the post that has since been deleted that "all forms of urban music" will no longer be played at the new venue, which some people on social media perceived as racist.

"We have heard the complaints, the constant bashing and other ridicule about the 'clientele' that we serve, and we are at a point where it is necessary to make this change," Weaver's post states. "Plenty of warnings about the change have been announced, and, quite frankly, we feel it's time to entertain a more respectful clientele."

Tammie Taylor and Ronnie Berke are co-owners of the club, and Ronnie Berke is Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke's uncle and a partner in the family law firm Berke, Berke & Berke. Coyote Jack's beer sales have also been suspended in the past, and Ronnie Berke has accused the city of targeting him and his businees.

While some praised Coyote Jack's news to reinvent itself, the wording of the post was not received well. James Blansit-Westmoreland took a screenshot of the post before it was deleted and shared it on his Facebook page where it has been shared over 160 times.

Blansit-Westmoreland said he has not been to the club, but as a black man, he was offended by the wording in the post. He said that he does understand the concerns surrounding the violence at Coyote Jack's, and he agrees something should be done to prevent it.

"However, the post the business made on Facebook said they would no longer play any forms of urban music, associating a music preference of many in the community to the violence happening there," he said. "That part of the statement, I believe, is why people are upset (including myself). It feels as if they are profiling my community by banning an entire music genre in order to deter our business, which to me, does not promote an environment of inclusivity and equality."

Just a few blocks away from Coyote Jack's, Southside Social received backlash from the community when the restaurant and bar on Chestnut Street unveiled a controversial dress code in 2017 that people said targeted the black community.

In an interview with the Times Free Press, Weaver said he wanted to clarify what he meant from his post. Citing that 85 percent of the employees at Coyote Jack's are black, Weaver said the meaning of the original Facebook post was "spun out of control."

As an openly gay man, Weaver said he wants all people to feel welcome at the venue.

"We've been entertaining all communities for over four years," he said. "There's never been any question whatsoever about racism ... This saddens me because that's not the person I am and the kind of place that I run."

The renovations will be "state-of-the-art" and include a new sound system, Weaver said, and the complete makeover of the nightclub on the main floor should take a couple of weeks. He said Coyote's will not be playing "aggressive rap and hip hop music anymore" and whatever they do play will be "radio appropriate."

This is not the first time the business has rebranded itself. The club, which was formerly known as Bella Vita, has been the site of several shootings over the years.

In July 2018, five people were injured in a shooting in the parking lot just outside of the club after hours. In December 2017, a shooting left 22-year-old Sharone Porter dead and his brother, 24-year-old Torrie Porter, injured. Seven months earlier, the club was put on lockdown after a shooting took place. Police said a man fired multiple shots into the air and possibly toward a crowd of people and one at the side of the building.

In 2016, 35-year-old Reuben Simpson, 35, was shot in the head in the early morning on Cowart Street, near the restaurant and survived. Two months later, a security guard was fatally shot in the upper chest at the location.

"We have a seedy history of violence and things that have happened across the street," Weaver said. "City Council has been on us and the police department. We just want to better our relationship with the city and police department as a whole."

The Living Room, which is on the floor above Coyote Jack's, will also be undergoing renovations, according to Weaver. They will not be as extensive though and should only take about a week. An entertainment venue below Coyote Jack's, The Underground Cabaret, won't be undergoing any renovations.

Weaver said that he and the owners are just trying to stay in business and not get shut down.

"I've got 30-plus employees that I'm responsible for and that I have to answer to every week," he said. "They rely on me."

Contact staff writer Allison Shirk Collins at ashirk@timesfreepress.com, @AllisonSCollins or 423-757-6651.