People crowded into the tiny lobby of of Le Monde Cafe on Wednesday evening and waited.
Some were waiting on carryout orders. Some were waiting on tables. Some were waiting for their first ever taste of Le Monde’s famous fattoush salad and sweet biscuits, having heard about the restaurant only because of a controversy.
Last week, after a customer posted on Facebook that he would never again patronize Le Monde after learning that its owner was “A Muslim named Muhammad,” a couple of Wichita Facebook users decided to organize “Support Le Monde Day” as a show of solidarity for San Diego-based owner Mohamad Krichati and his brother Ghassan Hajeh, who runs the restaurant. They designated Wednesday, July 20, as the day to show support and invited people via Facebook to attend.
Nearly 2,000 people expressed interest in going, and nearly 700 said they’d definitely be there. One of the event’s organizers, Ty Hostetler, asked people to sign up to go in shifts and extended the event into Thursday and Friday.
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The tiny Mediterranean restaurant, which has operated at 602 N. West St. since 1994, was immediately packed with customers as soon as the story got out last Thursday, Hajeh said. He’s been overwhelmed with business ever since,
“It was very busy every day,” Hajeh said. “They say, ‘Don’t listen to anybody. You are good. We support you.’ ”
On Wednesday, Hajeh more than doubled the wait staff he’d normally schedule for a weeknight. All front-of-the-house staff members wore new black shirts printed with “Le Monde” in shiny silver letters. Some had their names printed on the back. Hajeh’s new shirt, a black polo, said “Gus” on the lapel.
Among the customers who braved the crowds to attend the event were Harper residents Heber and Cheryl Ramer. They drove the 50 miles to Wichita, even though they’d never been to Le Monde before, after seeing the story online.
“It was ridiculous,” Heber Ramer said. “How do you make friends and influence people? You don’t do it by shutting them out.”
When contacted last week, the man behind the original post, Bruce Gilder, stood by his statements on Facebook and said he believed Islam was more of a political movement than a religion and that Muslim-owned businesses should be avoided. On Wednesday, he e-mailed a one-sentence statement to the media and reiterated his position.
“I’m against the expansion and support of a religion that calls for the deaths of homosexuals, deaths of those who do not believe as they do, believes in child brides as young as 8, and calls for violent world domination,” he said in the statement.
Hajeh said that despite everything, he has sympathy for Gilder, who was a customer for several years. If he ever wants to return to Le Monde, Hajeh said, he’s welcome. He will even wait on him personally.
“I want to thank him,” Hajeh said. “He helped me a lot. He showed me how beautiful Wichita is.”