Hillsborough Chamber stands by CEO criticized for serving Proud Boys in her bar

·5 min read

Hillsborough’s Chamber of Commerce expressed support for public safety and its chief executive officer this week after members of a hate group patronized her downtown bar.

“The Chamber Board takes concerns about the presence of a hate group known globally for violence and terrorism very seriously,” the statement said.

“This Board of Directors does not tolerate ideologies nor philosophies that denigrate, marginalize or discriminate. We are committed to working with our members and other stakeholders to foster a safe environment for all businesses and the community we all serve,” it continued.

Kim Tesoro, a co-owner of the bar Hot Tin Roof, was hired as CEO of the Hillsborough/Orange County Chamber of Commerce in 2017 after working for the organization for three years. She also is a member of the Hillsborough Tourism Board.

Residents and anti-racism activists have called on the chamber’s board to fire Tesoro and on the town’s Board of Commissioners to remove her and Mark Bateman, Hot Tin Roof founder and co-owner, from their positions on the tourism board following a Facebook post in June. Tesoro’s husband, Vince Tesoro, also is a partner in the bar.

Hot Tin Roof patron, Colin Dodd, sparked the controversy with a series of posts about a Hillsborough resident and known Proud Boy who had been frequenting the bar and occasionally bringing some of his friends with him. A popular DJ and active anti-racist protester also quit her regular gig with the bar on June 26 over concerns about harassment.

‘Effective and professional’

Tesoro reports to the chamber’s board of directors and “has been an effective and professional CEO,” the board said in the statement, issued to chamber members Friday and provided to The News & Observer on Monday.

The issues surrounding the Proud Boys patronizing the bar “are in the hands of the ownership of Hot Tin Roof and their legal counsel,” the board said.

Tesoro has referred questions to the bar’s attorney, Lynne Holtkamp, who issued a statement on July 7 but has not returned The N&O’s phone calls.

Bateman acknowledged in a previous interview that Proud Boys were patronizing the bar, and he had asked them on occasion to change their shirts, but said he is not a majority owner of the business.

Hot Tin Roof attracts a diverse clientele, Bateman and Dodd said in separate interviews, including people of color, transgender individuals and those who identify as LGBTQ. It also attracts people from a range of political persuasions, from conservative to liberal and progressive.

The bar now has rules posted prohibiting patrons from wearing “any kind of insignia, emblems, etc. which represents any kind of hate group, including specifically the Proud Boys.” The owners also planned to train staff on how to handle the situation if it occurs again.

“Hot Tin Roof has enjoyed a long history of inclusivity and diversity with our clients which we have worked very hard to ensure as a reflection of our own beliefs and convictions. We absolutely do not endorse or support in any way any kind of racist behavior, not now and not ever,” the bar owners said in a statement.

Dodd’s posts about the situation have generated hundreds of comments, with some supporters pushing for a boycott of Hot Tin Roof, a membership-only bar, which also has hosted town and Chamber events.

The incident also has stoked long-simmering anger about Ku Klux Klan and neo-Confederate protesters who have targeted the historic downtown over the last several years. An anti-racism protest was held downtown at the historic courthouse on July 17.

Western chauvinism brotherhood

The Proud Boys group identifies itself as a brotherhood promoting Western chauvinism and opposing political correctness and anti-racial guilt, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center and other groups that track hate groups.

However, its members have marched with alt-right and white supremacist groups and engaged in violence and intimidation, including at the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and at the U.S. Capitol Building on Jan. 6.

Hillsborough Police Chief Duane Hampton said earlier this month that he has received calls about men in Proud Boys clothing — black polo shirts with yellow trim and T-shirts with the group’s logo, a westward-facing rooster — being at the bar, but that there have been “no incidents of violence, intimidation, disturbances or any crimes.”

The Town Board is on its summer break until August but has looked into the issue, Mayor Jennifer Weaver said Thursday. She has declined to say if the town could take action to remove Tesoro and Bateman from the tourism board.

“I’ve had conversations about it with people in the community,” she said. “The board remains on break, so we have not had any kind of formal conversation about that.”

Bateman is one of four town bar and restaurant owners who serve on the nine-member tourism board; Tesoro is the chamber representative.

While the town can remove tourism board members “for good cause,” it does not have the authority to stop Tesoro from otherwise representing the chamber. The town’s rules do not define what constitutes a “good cause” situation.

The Orange Report

Calling Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Hillsborough readers! We've launched The Orange Report, a free weekly digest of some of the top stories for and about Orange County published in The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun. Get your newsletter delivered straight to your inbox every Thursday at 11 a.m. featuring links to stories by our local journalists. Sign up for our newsletter here. For even more Orange-focused news and conversation, join our Facebook group "Chapel Hill Carrboro Chat."

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting