It's been a "roller coaster" for the owners of Shuford's Smokehouse since late last month, when the restaurant faced a wave of social media harassment after it took a nearly $1,000 order to provide food during a rally in support of law enforcement.
Janice Williams, who helped organize the rally on June 27, said she gathered donations from other law enforcement supporters to place the order for 250 sandwiches and 250 chips.
"The people that were volunteering and wanted to show support wanted to provide meals for the officers," she said. "We were going to purchase the meals."
"We've done orders like that before," said Madison Davis, manager and daughter of Shuford's business owner Jeff Davis. "An insurance company bought some for like the hospital back during COVID ... so we didn't think literally anything of it."
But when word spread that the barbecue restaurant had taken the order, local activists took to social media to incorrectly state that the restaurant was hosting the rally. The activists have been protesting police brutality since the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The smaller "back the blue" rally on June 27 was a reaction to the Floyd protests.
"Shuford's Smokehouse is racist. They are mocking the movement and awarding brutality of black people by police by feeding them today and having a Blue Lives Matter rally," activist Cameron "C-Grimey" Williams, a leader of the local George Floyd protest movement, wrote on Facebook.
At the time the post was made, several people commented saying they would be leaving bad reviews on the restaurant's Facebook page.
"Bad reviews will shatter their 4.7 stars," one woman wrote.
Davis said the business was getting harassed via Facebook, Instagram and phone calls. They ultimately canceled the order and shut down the restaurant's social media accounts. Davis said they called police to request extra patrols at both of their locations — in Chattanooga and Red Bank — after someone threatened to burn down the Signal Mountain Road location, though that threat could not be verified.
Cameron Williams has since said his movement does not condone unprovoked violence.
The Signal Mountain Road location is used only to smoke the meat, Davis said, as it has been closed to the public after a mudslide leveled the business next door last year. She said they just obtained permits to start building a retention wall.
"That's why, whenever someone threatened to burn it, we canceled the order because we did not want to risk losing that building because we have literally been working for about a year just trying to get those permits," she said.
"People are like, 'Oh, you're a coward for canceling your order.' If you had known what we've been through the past year just trying to get that building back up and running, you would have probably canceled it, too."
Davis said that, after the initial backlash from protesters, "once word got out what was going on, people really supported us."
"But then at the same time, a lot of people were calling us cowards, and that they weren't gonna do business with us because ... we don't serve the police, which was totally false. But now since it's made national news, we are so busy ... We got people calling from all over the country wanting to just donate money to us. And just to say they support us."
The news was picked up by multiple conservative media outlets after U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee, weighed in on the issue.
"I think that it's just awful that there are threats that are made against them, their physical safety," Blackburn told reporters in a recorded phone call on Wednesday. "There are threats that are made against them against their home, simply because they filled an order that was placed with them.
"It is a concern when you have groups that think they can shut a business down simply because they don't agree with the way that business is run. It is a legal business that is operating in that community," Blackburn added.
On Thursday, Cameron Williams told the Times Free Press, "ICantBreatheCHA as a movement does not condone unprovoked violence against others, and it's sad what efforts people will go through to slander a group who they clearly want to silence while they profit off our cooking traditions."
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