OK Cafe again mired in controversy after displaying racially charged sign

A fire closed the OK Cafe in Buckhead.

A fire closed the OK Cafe in Buckhead.

OK Cafe, the old-school diner on West Paces Ferry Road owned by Liberty House Restaurant Corporation, which also owns Bone’s and Blue Ridge Grille in Atlanta, is drawing social media attention for a large sign recently hung on its exterior.

The sign read “Lives that matter are made with positive purpose,” an apparent response to the Black Lives Matter movement that has swept through Atlanta, the nation and spread across the globe over the past two weeks.

The demonstrations, which have included massive peaceful protests and some incidents of property damage, looting and other violence, are a response to the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody in Minneapolis.

OK Cafe displayed the "lives that matter" sign on June 7, but has since replaced it with a new sign advertising its takeout options. When the restaurant unfurled the white and red sign, there was also a tent and table set up in the parking lot with a sign reading "OK Cafe Tea Party." The sign was displayed as a student-led march called Buckhead4BlackLives began near the restaurant, as reported by Eater Atlanta.

Representatives of OK Cafe did not immediately respond to an AJC request for comment.

The wood carving of Georgia's 1956 state flag, complete with Rebel emblem, was moved to the back dining area. Courtesy Tony Wilbert.

Credit: Greg Bluestein

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Credit: Greg Bluestein

This is not the first time the restaurant has been in the news regarding claims of racial insensitivity. In 2016, OK Cafe quietly moved a carving of the old Georgia state flag, which included a Confederate battle emblem, after becoming a flashpoint for state politicians and activists. Though the flag is still displayed, it was replaced in its prominent position by a "Betsy Ross" American flag carving.

In an email exchange with a former employee, first published by What Now Atlanta but circulated to other local news outlets, Susan DeRose, a co-owner of Liberty House along with Richard Lewis, defended the "lives that matter" banner and denied any racist intent. In her email, DeRose asked who would pay for damages to businesses incurred during the recent protests. In a follow up email with the former employee, she called for an end to violence, looting and destruction.

Over the weekend, the city of Atlanta lifted its previously-issued 8 p.m. curfew as thousands of protesters marched against systemic racism and police brutality. There were no arrests or reports of property damage. 

In her statement to What Now Atlanta, DeRose mentioned that “many people are hearing about attacks on our company today and are disturbed and want to know if they need to protect us.”

She continued, “I am saying NO. Calmer and more logical heads always prevail.” Her statement also confirmed that the “tea party” sign was a reference to “America’s Tea Party 1773,” further explaining that she believed small businesses were not being protected or represented despite paying taxes. DeRose also wrote that “the press should not be allowed to tell lies about good people with good intentions,” though she did not specify which media outlets she referred to.