On Monday morning, the sandwich board on the sidewalk out front of Pizza Squared read: “Now hiring cashier.”
The Detroit-style pizza parlor is looking to replace a recently hired—and promptly fired—cashier, who refused to serve uniformed police officers on Sunday, eliciting intense backlash on Twitter and Yelp.
Douglas Carranxsa, longtime manager at the Brannan Street pizza joint, said the employee was terminated right after owner Christina Siu learned about the episode.
Carranxsa said that the cashier in question had been hired only a few days prior and added that neither he nor the owner of Pizza Squared would ban police officers.
“We try our best to provide good customer service, and it’s just so sad when stuff like this happens," Carranxsa said.
A Charged Political Climate
It's unclear what motivated the cashier, who Pizza Squared identified as a Latino man but declined to name, to refuse service to the SFPD. But the incident unfolded against the backdrop of the killing of Tyre Nichols, a Black man who was savagely beaten by Memphis police on Jan. 7 and later died of his injuries. Video of the killing was released on Friday and numerous protests against police brutality were held throughout the country over the weekend—including in Sacramento, where Nichols grew up, and around the Bay Area.
This isn’t the first time a Bay Area restaurant has been publicly censured after refusing service to uniformed police officers. In December 2021, North Beach brunch spot Hilda and Jesse ignited online vitriol after staff declined to serve three uniformed officers. An Instagram post, in which the owners explained that the armed officers’ presence had made the staff uncomfortable, was later deleted.
Sam Elbandak, owner of The New Spot on Polk Street and Town’s End Brunch on Townsend Street, said that while he welcomes police into his establishments, he remains critical of bad actors.
“We are against cops’ brutality, and I am for screening and better training officers,” he said. “But that does not make me stop serving them.”
A Swift & Emotional Reaction
Carranxsa said he heard about the incident when Siu called him to ask whether he could come in to work on his day off since the pizza parlor was suddenly short-staffed. “She was crying and couldn’t bring herself to come to the restaurant today after seeing everything people wrote on the internet,” he said.
Siu promptly issued an apology to the police via Twitter after the SF Police Officers Association (SFPOA) tweeted about the incident. Carranxsa told The Standard the incident upset him and Siu, whom he described as “a great boss.”
Tracy McCray, president of SFPOA, confirmed the incident—adding that she was pleased the owners of Pizza Squared, which is about a block away from the union's headquarters, issued such a quick apology.
"Because our officers have frequented Pizza Squared in the past without incident, we take the owners’ words at face value and appreciate their willingness to quickly take responsibility for this unfortunate incident," she said.
Earlier in the day on Monday, before Pizza Squared opened for business, a group of police officers stood around their motorcycles in front of 888 Brannan St., just across the street from the shop. From a distance, they could be heard trading jokes about the restaurant.
"You want a slice?" one officer asked to a round of laughter.
"It's a little early," another replied.
"Did you hear about what happened there?"
They laughed again. But upon being asked by this reporter for comment on Sunday's events, they declined to comment and said they didn't know anything about the incident.
The Right To Refuse Service
A customer sitting at a table on the sidewalk outside of Pizza Squared on Monday morning was more forthcoming.
“I don’t have any issues with cops,” said August, who declined to give their last name. “But it’s their shop.”
The commonly observed sign, "We Reserve the Right To Refuse Service to Anyone" has certain legal limitations in our state. California's Unruh Civil Rights Act prohibits business owners from refusing service to someone based upon a number of factors—including "housing and public accommodations, because of age, ancestry, color, disability, national origin, race, religion, sex and sexual orientation."
However, it’s not illegal to refuse service to the police, as officers are not members of a delimited protected category under the language of the Unruh Act. Restaurants are allowed to enforce a dress code, which would also apply to individuals in uniform who are carrying weapons.
Still, the legality of refusing to serve the police doesn’t protect businesses from retaliation from the public, especially opinionated online commenters.