South Carolina

Matt Shmanske, owner of the Moosehead Saloon in Columbia, South Carolina, apparently wanted a whiter crowd at his bar. When his manager refused to fire black staff, he was fired instead.

Columbia’s The State newspaper reported Saturday that former Moosehead Saloon manager Josh Sutton was told last month he had to fire the approximately one dozen African American staff who worked at the bar. This included between eight to 10 bouncers and roughly three bartenders. When he refused, he was fired.

Shmanske then told all bar staff that they had to re-apply for their jobs. Only two black staff members were asked to return, but neither one did.

Sutton told The State he received a text from Shmanske saying, “[W]hatever is happening to the crowd shift, I want it to stop now. It’s gone too far. I will bring in a entire need (new) staff if needed,” later telling the former manager that the staff and the clientele at the Moosehead Saloon was “too dark.”

South Carolina
Text message Mooshead Saloon owner Matt Shmanske sent to former manager Josh Sutton (Photo: The Columbia State)

Perhaps the biggest signifier that Shmanske wanted to drive away black customers was a large Confederate flag that hung over the DJ booth. Sutton wanted to take it down, but Shmanske apparently told him to leave it up. Sutton removed it anyway.

U.S. Census Bureau data shows that Columbia is 41 percent black. South Carolina as a whole is only 27 percent black, meaning that the bar’s clientele is likely to have a higher portion of African Americans. A 2017 promo for the Moosehead Saloon suggests that nearly half of the bar’s patrons were African American, although white customers appeared to slightly outnumber black customers (WARNING: Video below contains explicit language).

“[Shmanske] said they (the bouncers) were all trash and didn’t work,” Sutton told the paper. “He was like ‘you don’t have the people in the bar that I want in the bar.’ ”

“There was no need to carry on the conversation anymore,” Sutton added. “I told him I’m not going to fire anybody because of their skin color. You’re going to have to fire me if you want that done.”

The Moosehead Saloon — which a 2016 State profile of Shmanske and his businesses described as Rock n’ Roll and Country-themed — was accused of denying a black customer entry due to a supposed ban on solid-color shirts. However, a white customer was apparently allowed in despite wearing a solid-color shirt.

Trent Brown, who used to run social media and promotions for Moosehead, said Shmanske’s dress code, which banned necklace “chains,” “baggy clothing,” “grills” on customers’ teeth, and one-piece “RompHims” popular among gay black men, seemed overtly geared toward black customers. He added that Shmanske was upset about the bar getting “shout-outs” from a local Hip-Hop radio station.

“You still got black people going to Moosehead,” Brown told the newspaper. “You’re giving your money to someone who doesn’t want you there. I didn’t want that to happen.”

Shmanske also complained that the bar was playing “too much Hip-Hop,” according to The State. South Carolina rapper Austin Shell told the paper that he would come on nights when friends who were DJing told him they would spin some of his music. However, Shell noticed that his songs were never played, because Shmanske apparently told DJs to play less rap.

Former head bouncer Marcus Hughes told The State that “everyone listens to rap music now,” particularly younger clients, like students at the University of South Carolina, which is in Columbia. He also said sales were good and fights at the bar were minimal, meaning there was likely no business imperative to hire an all-new staff.

“I wasn’t late. I did my job and made sure everything was done,” Hughes said. “There wasn’t any viable reason for Josh and everyone else to get fired.”

In addition to the Moosehead Saloon, Shmanske owns two bars in the Five Points area — The Thirsty Parrot and Latitude 22 — along with restaurant Burger Tavern 77 on Columbia’s Devine Street, and Vista Union (formerly known as City Bar) on Gervais Street, according to The State.

Grit Post’s calls to Shmanske were not returned as of this writing. The only social media footprint Shmanske appears to have is an Instagram account bearing his name, which includes posts tagged at two of his restaurants. However, the account made no mention of The State‘s report.


Logan Espinoza is a freelance contributor specializing in economic issues. He lives in Phoenix, Arizona with his wife and daughter. Contact him at logan DOT espinoza AT yahoo DOT com.

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