Subscribe for 99¢
'Whites Only' stickers in The Grove

A photo posted to Facebook by Layla restaurant in The Grove shows the sticker someone put on a window of the restaurant. 

ST. LOUIS • Whoever put the "Whites Only" sticker on Qayum Mohammed's restaurant door in The Grove made sure to place it in direct sight. 

"I was hit with a nasty surprise," said Mohammed, who found the sticker about 9 a.m. Tuesday when he arrived at Sameem, his Afghan restaurant on Manchester Avenue. "I thought 'Wow, that's ignorant.'" 

He scraped off the sticker and the big glob of glue keeping it attached to the door. 

"I just immediately removed it," he said. "It was a pretty big sticker, though. I wasn't able to rip it right off."

At first, Mohammed wondered if the sticker was targeting him because of his Afghan heritage and restaurant — then he found out the same sticker had been posted on at least three other restaurants in The Grove. 

"I was very relieved," said Mohammed, who didn't want to speculate further about a motive behind the stickers, which also bore "#BLM" in a bottom corner, Tuesday night without more evidence. He added that he thought it unlikely the sticker was affiliated with the Black Lives Matter movement.

"I'm not one of those guys to assume things if I don't have all the facts," he said. "But we have a president who encourages this type of behavior. If it is an act of white supremacy, it needs to be dealt with."

The message on the stickers couldn't be further from from the inclusive culture at Sameem, Mohammed said. He said he employs and serves people of many different races and ethnicities. 

"Today I had Somali, Chinese, caucasian customers," he said. "It wasn't whites only, I promise you." 

Maria Sparks said she feels similarly about her restaurant, Layla, which she owns with her husband, Jason, and The Grove neighborhood. 

“Everybody is welcome here," she said. 

Sparks said a sticker was "super visible" on her restaurant's window facing Manchester when it was found. She doesn't think whoever placed it there was alleging that Layla is a racist establishment.

"If they are, it's clearly someone who's never been in our restaurant or knows anything about us," she said. “This does not represent us.” 

Sparks said the restaurant's security camera is set at an angle that doesn't capture the targeted window. She was confused by the #BLM hashtag. 

"The opening server who came across the sticker this morning said 'I wonder if this is a group of people who are trying to discredit Black Lives Matter'," she said. "It's a possibility, because it doesn't make sense otherwise. It just seemed really random. There's zero context with that sticker and I don't understand it."

She also wondered if Layla was targeted because of the restaurant's social media posts over the weekend in support of people protesting the verdict in the Jason Stockley case. Sparks' daughter took part in a protest Monday at her school in University City.

"At the end of the day, we know how we feel and what we stand for and so whatever that sticker is trying to say doesn't apply to us," Sparks said. 

Owners of other businesses that were allegedly targeted Tuesday could not be reached for comment.

A St. Louis Police spokesperson said late Tuesday that the department had not been notified of the issue. 

Mohammed said he had not notified police Tuesday but that he talked to a restaurant owner who alleged his security camera caught four or five people putting the stickers on buildings. He said he was too busy Tuesday to check his own security footage but would review it Wednesday morning. 

"There's cameras all over The Grove," he said. "Someone saw something." 

Reporter covering breaking news and crime by night. Born in Algeria but grew up in St. Louis. Previously reported for The Associated Press in Jackson, Mississippi and at the Wichita Eagle in Wichita, Kansas.