A Fresno restaurant has temporarily shut down after an internet-fueled rumor took off alleging it was serving dog meat.
Tasty Thai is a little, 6-month-old takeout restaurant on First Avenue near Belmont Avenue that closed Wednesday and Thursday after receiving a death threat and other negative comments via phone calls from around the country. People also posted negative reviews of the restaurant on Google and Yelp.com.
“We have nothing to do with any of this, but we’re Asian and somehow we eat and serve dog?” said David Rasavong, who owns the restaurant with his parents. “Just because we’re an Asian restaurant? That’s disgusting.”
The controversy started several days ago with an allegation of abuse of a pit bull tied up at the home next door to the restaurant.
Maria Alvarez Garcia posted a Facebook video of herself confronting the owner of a panting pit bull tied up by its front paws with no water near where it was laying. She said the dog was approaching heat stroke.
Fresno Police visited the home and decided the dog was not being abused, according to the department’s Instagram post Tuesday. The dog had been newly purchased and was later returned to its original owner, the post said.
In later videos, Garcia continued to insist the dog was abused and commenters started to suggest that someone is eating the dogs. The family living in the home is Asian.
“Some people reached out to me thinking that those people are eating the dogs,” she said in an Instagram video. “That kinda breaks my heart to consider that. I hope that we’re able to save this dog and all the dogs that end up in that house.”
She later posted a picture of the restaurant. Commenters started assuming the restaurant was serving the dogs. No evidence of it was shared.
The restaurant is next door to the home and separated by a fence — not attached to it, as some commenters have said.
The Bee reached out to Garcia several times via phone and social media, but she did not immediately respond.
Garcia was in the spotlight more than a decade ago, advocating for Adam’s Law. It’s named after her grandson, who was violently shaken as a 1-year-old by his mother’s boyfriend, leaving him partially paralyzed and brain damaged. The law allows tougher sentences for child abusers.
Tasty Thai does not serve dogs, Rasavong said, nor do the restaurateurs own, live in or are otherwise associated with the house.
Rasavong is a longtime Fresno entrepreneur whose family has been in the restaurant industry for 20 years. He’s also a dog owner, and has a maltipoo and bichon frisé at home.
“We have been bombarded with nasty reviews and comments,” he said.
People left one-star reviews on Google and Yelp repeating the accusation. He shared several screenshots with The Bee, including one that said, “Several reports have came in this place STEAL DOGS and EATS THEM!! This place is Evil and needs to be SHUT DOWN IMMEDIATELY!!!”
Rasavong has worked with the websites to get the reviews removed.
He was going to stay quiet about the situation until he listened to the voicemails at the restaurant.
One caller said, “Go back to your country, you dog-eating mother------.”
He decided to close the restaurant for the near future for the safety of his parents, who are 74 and 67, and his staff. He’s not sure how long it will stay closed.
“We started receiving direct threats. I actually received a death threat,” he said. “What if I’m not there and someone threatens or attacks my staff?”
He posted a video of his own denying the accusations on the Tasty Thai Facebook page.
Rasavong filed a police report Thursday.
The restaurant isn’t the only one fielding calls. Animal rescue agencies have been getting phone calls from all over the country, one confirmed. An online petition encouraged people to report the dog owner to the police and another rescue agency.
Fresno police said they had noted that the social media posts had identified the exact location of the house.
Thursday afternoon, Alvarez Garcia posted a video on Instagram asking people not to target the restaurant.