NewsRegionMonroe County

Actions

Erie Orchards and Cider Mill owner under fire for racist comments caught on video

Posted at 6:20 PM, Aug 15, 2023

ERIE, Mich. (WXYZ) — An orchard owner is under fire for racist remarks he made toward a family who is Muslim.

Video shows the owner of the Erie Orchards and Cider Mill saying racist comments to a father, accusing the family of stealing and then preventing them from leaving.

Owner: "Every Muslim that comes in here steals from me."
Father: "That's racist. You are racist."
Owner: "Of course, I am."

That's part of the conversation that was captured by Palestinian immigrant Joe Mahmoud on his phone at Erie Orchards and Cider Mill this past Sunday.

Mahmoud says he went to the orchard with his wife and three kids. But when it was time for them to head back, things turned ugly in a matter of seconds.

"We picked some already you-picked peaches that they have boxed up. I think we spent like $60 before we even went to the back," Mahmoud said.

Since the kids wanted to experience picking peaches, Mahmoud asked permission from one of the employees.

"He said, 'Sure, but you're not going to find anything. I said, 'Well, if we do, then we put it in a bag — do we pay for it? He said, 'No, don't worry about it," Mahmoud recalled.

But according to Mahmoud, that wasn't the case. As the family was heading out with an additional selection of peaches, they were stopped by the owner of the cider mill, Steve Elzinga.

"Just opened the door and started going through my truck. Then, he goes in the back where my daughter is. I'm like what is he doing now? My daughter is back there sleeping and he is going through her diaper bag," Mahmoud said.

Mahmoud says Elzinga took the bag of picked peaches inside and demanded $58.

"He said, 'Oh, you're gonna pay. And I'll make sure you pay,'" Mahmoud said. "That right there was like, you know what — no."

While walking back to his truck, without the peaches, Mahmoud says he heard the unthinkable.

"'You people always come down here.' I said, 'What do you mean you people,'" Mahmoud said.

The following was captured on video:

Mahmoud: "You said, 'I hope these Muslims don't come back here.'"
Elzinga: "I don't want you here."
Mahmoud: "Why would I want to spend any money with you when you say that?"
Elzinga: "I don't need you."
Mahmoud: "I don't need you either."
Elzinga: "So why are you here?"
Mahmoud: "I like to help local businesses."
Elzinga: "Well, we don't need you."

7 Action News met up with Elzinga, who asked reporter Faraz Javed "Are you, his brother?"

Javed told Elzinga that he is not Mahmoud's brother. Once that was out of the way, we spoke with Elzinga about the interaction with Mahmoud and his family.

"I'll tell you what happened. I've had several problems with Muslims who have come in and picked and don't pay. Oh, they thought it was free. He was the third one on Sunday that came, had $57 worth of apples, and said no, I'm not paying," Elzinga said.

Elzinga told us his comments were driven out of frustration.

"Yeah, I know the video. I said that 'Muslims are all thieves,'" Elzinga said.

We asked him if he was ashamed by his comments.

"No. You know what, why do we have to put up with that almost on a daily and weekly basis?" Elzinga said. "Every time a Muslim would drive in, my staff would call me and say, 'We have Muslims out there. We got to be extremely careful.'"

We asked Elzinga how he know certain customers are Muslim.

"Their women have all have this and that," Elzinga said, motioning around his head.

But in the end, Elzinga says he's got no hate and in the future, he won't generalize.

"Obviously, I don't feel this way about everybody, OK, about Muslims. We've had a lot of Muslims who've come here and are good people — they pick, they pay," Elzinga said.

Moving forward, there is going to be a checkpoint for everyone coming out of the cider mill, and Elzinga says it won't be racially driven.