The South Orange-Maplewood community has been roiled by an alleged racist incident involving an employee of Bunny’s Restaurant in South Orange, that has led to a call to boycott the longtime family-owned restaurant.
The May 8 event, part of which was captured on a cellphone video by an unidentified bystander, involved Catherine (C.j.) Burgess, a Maplewood resident and Columbia High School alumna, her father Aubrey, and Ryan Pogany, son of Bunny’s owner Leslie Pogany.
According to an account Burgess posted on her personal Facebook page (which has been shared more than 375 times), she and her father were allegedly confronted by Pogany, who was making deliveries, as the Burgesses were trying to jumpstart Aubrey Burgess’s car that had stalled in a driveway near the restaurant. The elder Burgess, an accountant, owns a business also located on South Orange Avenue.
C.j. Burgess, who is a Navy veteran, alleges that Pogany was aggressive and physically threatening to her and her father, demanding they move their cars from the driveway, and that he told her father to “go back to his country” and called her a “N***** bitch” and told her to “leave HIS country.”
Reached by Village Green on Friday afternoon, Burgess said she had filed a report at the South Orange Police Department, and that she and her father “are discussing what actions we are thinking of taking.” She said she is seeking Ryan Pogany’s resignation and a public apology to her and her father.
Leslie Pogany denies the allegations, and directed Village Green to a May 15 post on Bunny’s Facebook page:
“To all of my loyal patrons and friends who have contacted me in support, I thank you all from the bottom of my heart for your words of kindness and care. The terrible things that some people are saying and spreading are false. Everyone stay safe and be well. I hope to provide you with a hospitable environment to break quarantine in the not too distant future.”
South Orange Police Chief Kyle Kroll said “the matter is currently being looked into” by the Detective Bureau. Asked if there were witnesses and/or additional surveillance video of the incident, Kroll said he didn’t have any additional information and that the case “is in the very early stages of our investigation and fact finding process.”
The bystander video — which was posted on the Village Green Facebook group — shows Pogany repeatedly yelling at Burgess, “Move the F—in’ car,” but does not capture racial slurs.
The incident spurred a petition started by local advocacy group SOMA Justice, calling for a boycott of the restaurant unless Pogany is fired or resigns and the owners issue a public apology to the Burgesses. The petition also demands that the South Orange Village Center Alliance (SOVCA) remove Leslie Pogany as a board member and that the town “sever ties” with the restaurant as a sponsor of community events.
According to a statement posted on the SOVCA website, the organization is “deeply troubled” by the incident, and is convening its board to “discuss these events and appropriate actions.”
In her Facebook post, Burgess writes, “I was born and raised in NJ. Went to school less than a block away at South Orange Middle School. Graduate of Columbia Highschool and served my country with high honors in the United States Navy. Raised with morals and respect for all human beings. But tonight I was subjected to just the color of my skin.”
In a private letter to a community member that was posted online, Pogany family attorney Elaine Harris denied that Ryan Pogany had directed racial slurs at the Burgesses. Village Green reached out to Harris for further comment but she declined to provide any, and did not give permission for her letter to be published.
We are following up on this story and will update it when we receive more information.
C.j. Burgess’s full Facebook post from May 8, 2020:
Racism during COVID -19
Just an hour ago I was faced with the most disgusting form of humanity personally.
My fathers car stalled out in front of his business, an accounting firm he created and ran for the past 30 years. As a good daughter I came to assist him and give him a jump start with my car. To not create traffic I pulled into the alley to angle my car to give him the proper boost. An alley of which has no ownership. I was parked in this position for all of 5 mins giving him a jump and a truck came down the main road and honked his horn. We motioned to him that the car is stalled out. ( again my fathers car is in a parking spot not in the way of traffic and mine is in an alley way ) The car went around the block. Mere 2 mins later the car comes back around. Laying into his horn yet again. As most ppl know you must run the engine for a few minutes to allow the battery to start charging. The driver jumps out of the car and starts yelling slurs towards my father and I. Stating we are acting entitled. Mind you we are off of the road and using an alley way to do this repair to the car. States we are “ parking “ and not allowing him to leave his car in the alley so he can pick up his order ( he is a middle aged man doing delivery service). ( later finding out he is the son of a local restaurant owner) While trying to speak to him calmly and stating we are packing up our things he gets into my fathers face and tells him to get his entitled ass out of the street and “ go back to his country”. My father again has been in this country for the past 40 yrs and been a citizen the entire time. I came to my fathers aid and got between them. This is when the man gets into my face telling me to get my Black Ignorant ass away from him. He threw other slurs to me while banging on my car hood and saying I’m taking up place in the world. Continues to tell me to tell me to go back to my county because clearly I don’t know the way things are done in this town. Five mins of him in both of our faces had me irate and told my father to go home. Once again he is still yelling in my face now calling me a N****r bitch and that I need to leave HIS country.
I was born and raised in NJ. Went to school less than a block away at South Orange Middle School. Graduate of Columbia Highschool and served my country with high honors in the United States Navy . Raised with morals and respect for all human beings. But tonight I was subjected to just the color of my skin.
I took pictures of his car in case the authorities need to be notified about this. . As you can probably assume his race by the way he spoke of this being his country.