None of the restaurant managers wanted to imagine an employee or customer opening fire. But Charleston Police Department Lt. Heath King had come to prepare them for it.
Several hours before Melfi’s opened for service Thursday, King was there to talk to the restaurant’s staff, as well as employees from Little Jack’s Tavern, Monza and Leon’s Oyster Shop, about what to do in the event of an active shooter.
“It’s something people think is never going to happen to them,” Brooks Reitz, co-owner of the four restaurants under the parent company Neighbourhood, said. “It stinks that this is the reality, that it’s something we have to be aware of.”
But, as King said, “it can happen here and has happened here.”
Following shootings such as the one last week inside a classroom at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Dean Martin, Neighbourhood’s safety director, arranged the training at Melfi's. Attendance was mandatory for managers.
Among his recommendations, King, who commands the Charleston Police Department's efforts in the city's central business district, suggested restaurants hire bouncers and/or door staff and install hurricane-rated glass windows and security cameras. He also talked attendees through what to do in different active shooter scenarios and showed a five-minute YouTube video titled “Run. Hide. Fight.”
While King characterized some of his points as "common sense," his main piece of advice to those in the room included, “Have an emergency plan and practice it.”
“Every business is different, so every plan will be different,” King said. “Even if it starts on a napkin today, make a plan and make it a living, breathing document.
"If you've never practiced it and something happens, you're going to panic."
King gives a similar training twice per year to members of the Greater Charleston Restaurant Association and said he would offer training to individual restaurants by request. He can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“When you walk through the doors here or anywhere, this is something to think about,” King said. “My hope is if you weren’t thinking about this before, maybe your thought process has changed.”
Reitz said he and Martin would be taking the police officer’s advice by coming up with an emergency plan for each restaurant.
"We're always talking about training our staff; it's not just show up, work and get out," Reitz said. "And safety education is part of that."
After a disgruntled former dishwasher killed a chef at Virginia’s on King in August 2017, Reitz said his staff began conducting more in-depth background checks when hiring people.
He also referenced the April 2018 shooting that wounded an employee at Tavern & Table on Shem Creek.
“Unfortunately, all types of businesses and places are seeing this stuff,” Reitz said, “and that includes restaurants."