DENVER, CO — Saki Melius stood alone in her restaurant, a broom and dustpan in hand, staring at her large, broken window. She had just finished dragging back her dumpster, which had been set on fire and pushed nearly a block away. She then had to step over a large puddle of urine to get into her business.
Broken glass was everywhere. There was graffiti and rubber bullet holes on the outside of her building. Melius, a mother of two, reached her breaking point.
"I was crying. ... I just couldn't stop crying. I was really sad," Melius said. "And I wasn't sure if I could afford to board up the restaurant."
It was June 1, and Denver protests over the death of George Floyd had become destructive overnight. Hundreds of people had clashed with police, and many businesses were damaged.
Melius told her employees not to come in that day — she didn't want them near the broken glass and didn't feel it was safe. So she was on her own.
While she was crying, Melius made signs to hang in her restaurant windows, which read, "Please, Let us Survive!" and "Please don’t destroy our restaurant!" in hopes of preventing more damage amid the protests.
KYU Ramen had already been forced to close for nearly a month during the coronavirus outbreak.
"It's been so hard," she said. "COVID-19 has eaten up our finances so much. We've been using our business credit card to pay the rent."
Despite her restaurant's popularity and high ratings, Melius said customers stopped ordering ramen.
"Right after the restaurant closures happened, we had $30 in sales the first day — like three orders," she said.
Melius said she began to lose faith that she could be a successful restaurant owner.
"I wanted to believe that I could do it, I wanted to believe that I could run a restaurant," she said. "But this ... it's just been so much."
The restaurant sits just blocks from the Colorado State Capitol — an area that was filled with police officers and protesters for more than 10 days in the wake of Floyd's death.
Melius said she was "so touched" by the peaceful protesters who marched on the street in front of her business.
"I one hundred percent support the peaceful protesters. I grew up in Japan, and many of us were taught not to speak up and to keep quiet," she said. "I like that part of America. It's so powerful."
After watching the video of Floyd lying on his stomach for nearly nine minutes with Officer Derek Chauvin's knee on the back of his neck, Melius said she was in shock.
"It was crazy ... crazy. Just crazy. Who let that happen? Who could do that kind of thing?" she asked. "If someone did something like that to my family member, I wouldn't be able to forgive [them]."
The restaurant owner said she understood protesters' anger, but she was saddened by all the damage.
Every business that surrounded Melius' eatery had broken windows June 1. Across the street, fencing had been ripped up.
"People that night took the fences and used it as a barricade with the dumpster, and some of the fencing got thrown into the windows," Melius said. "Most of their windows were broken."
She said the grocery store behind her restaurant was among the businesses that were hit the hardest.
"The Natural Grocer had so many broken windows, and they got looted," she said.
Melius said she's barely slept since late May. She checks her restaurant's security cameras throughout the night to make sure nothing is damaged.
While many people have stayed to march in Denver each night after curfew, the protests became more peaceful, and there's been no further damage to her eatery.
KYU Ramen, at 600 E. Colfax Ave., is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day of the week.