Friday, list member and long-time friend, Carol, sent me this photo from south Minneapolis…
…which was date/time stamped May 29, 2020, at 7:07 a.m.. The photographer is looking towards nearby Lake Street.
This is not a routine photo to me. My friend Ruhel’s GandhiMahal Restaurant on 27th and Lake was burned overnight on May 29, 2020. The odds are that the smoke is the restaurant and other structures on that single block which had just burned in the wake of the George Floyd murder 4 days earlier [see postnote].
Ruhel thought his business had escaped the pandemonium of the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd on Memorial Day, May 25, 2020. But this was not to be.
Before the smoke carried it away, GandhiMahal was a crucial part of the neighborhood, a busy, hospitable place. Here is a photo from a community party there Nov. 13, 2016.
This kind of scene was not unusual at Gandhi Mahal. Often, I had been in that same room for an event. I know of no successor place in that neighborhood. (This room survived the fire, but it, too, had to be demolished and removed afterwards.)
To my knowledge no perpetrators have been charged in this fire. Remember, this was in the worst time of Covid-19, and mandated masks and thus disguises. Plus, Ruhel’s surveillance equipment burned with the building. Lesson learned.
Often since that now long ago day in May, I’ve been back to the GandhiMahal block, including yesterday. The Post Office, also destroyed then, is nearing completion of reconstruction, but not yet open. None of the other buildings on the block have been rebuilt and I’m sure what that means, three years later.
Yesterday at the still vacant lot from 2020, I looked for some sign of hope on the formerly vibrant block. As close as I could come was the below sign of life, on the sidewalk right directly in front of the former restaurant.
Nature is resilient. I think GandhiMahal can still be as well.
POSTNOTE May 30, 2023: I asked the person who sent the ‘smoke photo’ above where the home actually was. Turned out that the house is about 1 1/2 mile WNW of Gandhi Mahal, so odds are that the smoke is unrelated to the restaurant, though certainly in the near area. (If you click on the link below Gandhi Mahal, above, you’ll find all of the damaged properties at the time. #59 is Gandhi Mahal.) There was an immense amount of damage during the week of May 25. There is no absence of pointed fingers: who to blame. The most credible source I’ve found came down on the side that this was such an unprecedented event that it was impossible to do an effective response. May, 2020, was also at a time when Covid-19 was raging, masks were mandated, and it was extremely difficult to identify much less respond to or even visually identify chaos actors. A policeman from the Third precinct, a short walk from Gandhi Mahal, has gone to prison for the murder of George Floyd. as have other officers with him when the killing occurred. During the ensuing problems, Police and Fire were rendered impotent: too many incidents, too high risk. None of this will stop rumor mongering, even three years later. Prospects of additional people being arrested are unlikely.)
I was personally involved with GandhiMahal on several occasions, holding events there each year between 2013 and 2019. The last was May 1, 2019. An event planned for April, 2020 had to be cancelled due to Covid-19.
I got to know the owner quite well. He was truly a class act.
In September, 2020, in one of the last issues of a popular local newspaper, City Pages – it went out of business the next month – carried an expose of alleged problems of sexual harassment at the restaurant by some unnamed employee. This resulted in a highly publicized Human Rights complaint under Minnesota Law. I have no idea who the employee was, nor any of the publicized complainants who were pictured in the newspaper. As of this writing, probable cause has been found, but there is a very long road to adjudication, if any, and to the best of my knowledge the accusation against the owner, my friend, was not his personal behavior, rather behavior of one employees against other employees. Of course, the newspaper article came out close to the 2020 election, and certainly traveled quickly and negatively in the local progressive community. I actually read the original article. Anybody interested in the matter can simply search Gandhi Mahal Minneapolis human rights complaint and will find information. As always with such: caveat emptor.
I last saw owner and friend Ruhel Islam at a fundraiser for a progressive non-profit about March 19, 2020. It was literally the last event before Covid-19 closed everything down in Minnesota.
If the restaurant were to reopen, and I hope it will, and it was Ruhel’s, I would not hesitate for a minute to support the venture.