A Stony Brook graduate was barred from entering the Harbor Grill in Port Jefferson on Sunday, May 12, after a manager told him he couldn’t wear his turban in the bar, citing a no hats rule.
Gurvinder Grewal, a Sikh who graduated with a degree in biochemistry last May, said that after the security guard checked his ID, the manager standing next to him said that Grewal wouldn’t be allowed in.
“I explained to the manager that it was a turban and I wore it to practice my religion, however he kept telling me it was the owner’s policy,” Grewal said over Facebook Messenger. “I explained that I just wanted to hang out with some friends for the night and even went to the back of the line to try and explain my situation again a second time, which still did not work.”
Grewal said that he had been to the Harbor Grill (formerly known as Schafer’s) once before last May without encountering any issues. He said that after he pointed that out, the manager told him he was following a new policy.
The restaurant’s Facebook account later commented an apology underneath a post someone made on their page requesting an explanation, and pointed out that on Friday and Saturday nights after 10:00 p.m., hats and headwear aren’t allowed so as to better identify people.
“This policy, posted at the entrance, applies to everyone; to pick and choose who can and cannot wear headwear of any type would truly be discriminatory against anyone else attempting to wear a hat inside,” the post read. “We are supplying a photo of the subject person, whose face is blacked out for their privacy, wearing what would be more widely perceived as the slang term ‘dew rag’ or a ‘stocking cap’ and not a traditional turban.”
They also wrote that Grewal was not kicked out, but rather refused entry, and disagreed with aspects of the story as told in a Facebook post made by another Stony Brook student.
“The claims of being threatened to be kicked out for attempting to video the interaction according to the manager are inaccurate in that it was other people (not the subject person) coming to the door afterward, seemingly attempting to coerce some sort of controversial response,” the post read. “Again, to reiterate, we welcome and appreciate all people coming to our establishment irrespective of any race or religion.”
Bansri Shah, a senior information systems major on the pre-law track, said that she posted about the situation because she felt other students needed to know about it.
“People who have to experience this have gotten so used to it that they don’t bother doing anything,” she said.
Her post detailed only the tail end of the story – she said that since she wasn’t there for the entire event, she can’t speak for the parts she wasn’t there for.
“Tonight was my first time going to Schafer’s and someone got kicked out because of wearing a turban,” Shah wrote. “Honestly I never expected this type of action taken from an establishment in Port Jeff considering the racial diversity in a college town right next door, Stony Brook, but I think it’s really messed up. The manager at Schafer’s, currently known as Harbor Grill, even threatened to kick us out for recording, and refused to talk to us because he claimed he was ‘busy.’”
Shah wasn’t the person allegedly recording. She later removed the post from her timeline, although not from Facebook, after getting hit by negative feedback.
“There were a lot of negative comments and I just didn’t want to have to see that,” she said.
One user commented the response from Harbor Grill underneath Shah’s post and later accused Shah of trashing the business.
“You’re adult enough to falsely trash a business, that has families and livelihoods, the words you chose could bankrupt a business and but many families on unemployment,” part of the comment read. “Don’t cry me a river about you being a poor college student. Take your race baiting/religious baiting BS somewhere else. You never once apologized when you were called out for the words you chose, you’re only backtracking now since the truth came out.”
The director of operations for Port Jefferson’s Chamber of Commerce, Barbara Ransome, commented that the chamber would look into the incident, but “no judgment at the moment.”
Port Jefferson’s mayor, Margot Garant, also commented, saying that she was interested in watching this story as well and that she private messaged Shah.
Shah said that Garant messaged her that she was going to work on finding a solution and that what happened was not okay. Garant also asked for the times when the event occurred so that she could look into security footage, Shah said.
Garant spoke to Grewal as well, and said he could have a civil rights action on his hands.
“I just want [Harbor Grill] to acknowledge that what they did was wrong and to know that legally they can’t do what they did,” Grewal said. He also said that he’s in contact with an attorney.
Harbor Grill did not respond to multiple requests for comment.