A dish from Mot Hai Ba (Photo courtesy of Mot Hai Ba on Facebook)
Mot Hai Ba chef and owner Peja Krstic released an apology video in response to allegations of racist comments, cultural appropriation and verbally abusive language that surfaced last week.
Krstic apologized after Tiffany Tran, owner of Sneakerbaby Macarons and a Mot Hai Ba regular, pointed out that the popular Vietnamese sandwich “banh mi” was spelled wrong on the restaurant’s Instagram account June 16, Eater Dallas reported. The post has since been corrected, but Tran then received a train of text messages from Krstic accusing Tran of racial profiling and “kicking him in the guts” with her post, the publication reported.
In the text messages provided to Eater, Krstic tells Tran that her public correction on Instagram was “wrong.” Tran thinks that Krstic used the restaurant’s reservation system to find her phone number.
“I feel like shit, and I feel very hurt and insulted,” Krstic said in a message. “I would expect a little more understanding, but I guess I was wrong. I feel very insulted and racially profiled by y’all. Not cool.”
Tran also mentioned that Krstic messaged and called her boyfriend, who is also a Mot Hai Ba regular and friendly with Krstic, telling him that “his girl has gone too far.” After these exchanges, Krstic banned her from his restaurant.
“I was hoping that the next day he would cool down and apologize,” Tran told Eater. “Maybe he had a rough night and took it out on me. I gave him five days to reach out to me and apologize, and the whole five days I was miserable just sitting on it. I find it weird that as soon as one person tells their story, all these other stories come out. I got phone calls with people telling me their own story.”
Krstic then made his post and apologized for the text conversation with Tran, even though their conversation had not ever been made public on social media. Krstic acknowledged that he misspelled banh mi, but blamed the intensity of the situation on being busy opening the new Mot Hai Ba location in Victory Park.
“I apologize for not reading everything,” he said. “I based my conclusion off of something in the first paragraph, which is so wrong.”
After watching Krstic’s video, Tran felt that the apology sounded disingenuous.
“It’s an eight-minute video, but it’s not an eight-minute apology,” Tran told Eater. “It’s a one-and-a-half minute apology with six-and-a-half minutes of self-promotion.”
Following Krstic’s apology, Tran released her own statement via Instagram:
The incident escalated Tuesday when Sandwich Hag chef Reyna Duong called Krstic out by name for not only his interactions with Tran, but also for criticisms of cultural appropriation.
“There is a larger conversation that needs to be had about what Dallas collectively has praised over the years, this includes Dallas media,” Duong wrote on social media. “I hope Peja doesn’t threaten to sue me, call me a racist, find my cell phone number to harass me, tell me my career will be ruined or call me an ‘Asian piece of shit’ like he has with other Asian folks that have spoken up.”
Khao Noodle Shop chef Donny Sirisavath also alleged on social media that Krstic was verbally abusive and elicited racially charged language toward him early this year at a Dallas bar. Read Sirisavath’s full statement below:
Krstic has operated his restaurant since 2015. He began at Mot Hai Ba as the restaurant’s executive chef and eventually bought the East Dallas eatery in 2016. Since 2015, the chef’s cooking has attracted media acclaim and visits from celebrities like Kanye West.
Krstic has not responded to Sirisavath’s allegations and did not answer a request for comment from Eater Dallas.