Racism Charge Heats Up Against Japanese Restaurant

The owner of Matsumoto Restaurant in Larchmont says he is being unfairly accused of racism,







his business has dropped off more than 50% due to the recent controversy, and his attorney, Stewart McMillan, Jr. claims, “This is largely about money. The plaintiffs want the teenager’s college paid for.”

The parents of 17 year old Abigail (“Abby”) Brammer claim she was fired from her job because she is black. They are demanding the restaurant agree to an injunction prohibiting future discrimination on the basis of race, proactively search for an African American employee and pay a “modest” settlement, according to her attorney.

In an exclusive interview with theLoop Thursday evening, Abby Brammer and her friend Rebecca (“Becca”) Kitsis, both of whom graduated from Mamaroneck High School in June, spoke about the events of March 20 that led to Brammer’s lawsuit.  Abby has also filed a complaint with the EEOC.

“I was completely stunned,” Abby says. “Out of all the communities where I have been raised I had never confronted anything like this.”

Abby’s mother, Kathy Brammer, added, “We have had to deal with some stuff (over the years) that was more subtle. But this was blatant.”


According to the young women, Becca, who had been working at Matsumoto for a month, called restaurant owner Mardy (sic) Cheng to let him know she had to quit her hostess job to concentrate on school work, but that she had a friend with restaurant experience she was willing to bring in and train for the job. The position paid between $7 and $9 an hour, depending on the night of the week.  Becca says Cheng agreed she should bring Abby in.

Becca brought Abby, who is African American, with her to work that evening; Abby says she began training on a touch screen cash register and filled two carry-out orders. Becca says it was customary for Cheng to have potential employees begin trying out before he had met them.

After observing Abby for about ten minutes, Becca says, “Mardy pulled me aside. ‘We can’t have her here,’ he says. ‘She’s black.’”

According to the complaint Cheng said, “Rebecca, I’m not a racist, okay? But this is about business. I just don’t think it would be good if your friend worked here. See, this is a Japanese restaurant, you understand? So it’s bad for business….I’m not a racist – I don’t care- black, white, brown, I don’t care…but I don’t think it would be good for us if your friend worked here.”

Becca says she then explained to Cheng that this was illegal, and, according to the complaint he acknowledged, “maybe it is illegal.”

Becca’s mother, Dr. Elizabeth Kitsis, says “(Matsumoto’s) approach was illegal. In this country we have a legal process.”

“They knew just what to do,” their pro bono attorney, Joshua Friedman, says. “They studied Reconstruction in High School. They were armed for bear.” He added, “Abby never had to confront before that opportunities for her might be different.”

But Matsumoto disputes this version of events.

“Abby simply was not the right person for the job,” says McMillan. "Cheng was trying to convey that a hostess in a Japanese restaurant should be bubbly and smiling and this girl was too shy. Her friend wrongly interpreted Mr. Cheng’s motivation to be racist.”

McMillan added that Cheng, who has been speaking English “only six years,” has five Hispanic employees.

The young women organized a protest outside Matsumoto June 24 by posting the announcement on a Facebook page. About 40 MHS students were there. Since the protest and the ensuing press coverage, “the restaurant’s been empty,” McMillan says. McMillan said he was told the Brammers’ attorney helped organize the protest. Friedman told theLoop the protest was the girls’ idea.

Matsumoto’s lawyer further says the other side has indicated that because Abby was trying to earn money for college at this part-time job, the settlement should include money for her college tuition.

“The most she would have earned over the summer would have been about $2000," McMillan says. “I really think they’re losing the forest for the trees.”

"This whole thing has gotten ridiculous," said one local merchant who knows Cheng, who did not want to be identified. "It appears that this was a misunderstanding. People are so quick to sue instead of sitting down to talk."

Abby is planning to go to the LDS Business College in Salt Lake City, Utah in the Fall.

“This really prepared me,” she said. “Now I definitely know I really have to work harder at trying to help people get over stereotypes.”

–reported by Polly Kreisman





  1. I agree with the woman quoted in this article. Legal action should be a LAST resort to resolve a conflict, not a FIRST action. Before you attempt to ‘expose’ something that may not be true and harm someone’s business and/or reputation, you should minimally discuss the potential issue with the person you are accusing of an inappropriate action.

  2. The restaurant’s empty? I was in there last evening and it was completely dead. Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty? I can tell you that Matsumoto is a terrific restaurant with great sushi and excellent service. When I order take-out it is at my door in 10 minutes. Matsumoto is a great local business that deserves our support. I respect what the local high school students are doing in supporting their friend but I would let the parties and the court work out the issue before making a decision to boycott the restaurant. That is what our legal system is for.

  3. NY is an at will employer, which means they can fire abby for anything they want. As always in larchmont litigation rules…

    “Abby was trying to earn money for college at this part-time job, the settlement should include money for her college tuition.”

    Her friend GAVE her a job, she didnt have to look for one. Maybe the kids around here should actually try going out, without their parents help, and applying for jobs and seeing if they can do something with out someone else handing it to them. Would they know how to do that?

  4. As I know the plaintiff in the aforementioned case, I am inclined to respond to the comments below. The Matsumoto job was not Abby’s first and last attempt to gain employment in the Larchmont / Mamaroneck / Rye / New Rochelle area. Abby had been searching for a job for five months before the incident, with no avail. She did not use her “parent’s help,” as they both work almost full-time jobs. Also, I think it is ridiculous to assert that job opportunities are not often times created by personal relationships. It would be a fallacy to say that all jobs are found by cold-call attempts.

    Abby continues to search for a job to pay for college. Though I agree that legal action should be a final measure, I believe that we as a community must stand behind racism, or at least attempts to discover whether racism existed. In addition, we as a community should stand behind our teenagers and children, and not assume they are spoiled and lazy. It is strange that a “Local Mom” of a similarly privileged child should be so quick to judge.

  5. *AGAINST racism. oops

  6. if i owned an etheopian restaurant i certainly would not hire a japanese hostess. some people need to get a grip on reality and leave this guy alone.
    birmingham alabama my a.. !

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