'Went back to Vietnam' sign at former restaurant site stirs controversy in Wheaton

  • This sign has been in the window of the former Luong-Loi restaurant in downtown Wheaton for two years. But the sign just ignited a controversy as a longtime resident found it an insult to the restaurant operators who moved across the street.

      This sign has been in the window of the former Luong-Loi restaurant in downtown Wheaton for two years. But the sign just ignited a controversy as a longtime resident found it an insult to the restaurant operators who moved across the street. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • The newer home of Luong-Loi restaurant in downtown Wheaton opened two years ago along Main Street.

      The newer home of Luong-Loi restaurant in downtown Wheaton opened two years ago along Main Street. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Robert Sandberg owns this clothing store at Front and Main streets in downtown Wheaton.

      Robert Sandberg owns this clothing store at Front and Main streets in downtown Wheaton. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 9/22/2017 9:32 AM

Taped inside the front door of a former Vietnamese restaurant in downtown Wheaton is a sign that says the owners "went back to Vietnam."

Was the landlord who put up the sign trying to give notice to would-be patrons? Or was it an act of animosity toward his former tenants, who reopened the Luong-Loi restaurant in a building across Main Street two years ago?

 

The landlord, Robert Sandberg, is now at the center of a backlash after Jessica Prewitt, a longtime Wheaton resident, posted pictures on social media Wednesday of what she says is an offensive and inaccurate sign.

Prewitt's Facebook post has generated more than 130 comments. By Thursday afternoon, the sign also apparently had been covered up by someone who sprayed the outside of the glass door with a glittery substance.

Nonetheless, Prewitt is planning to organize a demonstration Saturday outside Sandberg's longtime men's clothing store at Main and Front streets to push him to take down the sign and show support for the family-owned Vietnamese restaurant.

Prewitt contends the sign "sends a message that you are not welcome here," adding that she and other protesters intend to carry their own signs from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in front of Sandberg's store and then go to lunch at Luong-Loi.

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"Ultimately, I want the piece of paper gone, and I think he owes an apology to the owners of Luong-Loi," Prewitt said.

Sandberg defended the sign Thursday and maintained that his former tenants told him two years ago they were returning to Vietnam.

"I put the sign in the window repeating word for word what they told me," he said.

Sandberg said he stopped getting inquiries about the restaurant after he put up the sign.

"I'm not keeping it up," he said when asked why he hadn't yet removed it. "I just haven't taken it down."

Luong-Loi serves lunch and dinner in a building formerly owned by Sandberg at 111-113 N. Main St. The restaurant owners couldn't be reached for comment Thursday.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The city gained ownership of the long-vacant property in 2006 after six years of condemnation proceedings against Sandberg. In late 2014, the city council approved the sale of the building to the restaurateurs for $160,111.

The restaurant reopened about a year later after extensive renovations of the building's facade.

Wheaton officials have been at odds with Sandberg in other legal disputes about the condition of his buildings. The city filed a complaint in August 2014 over code compliance issues with the bricks and windows of his property on Front and Main streets.

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