AURORA – Members of a family who said they were asked to change their seats at a Naperville restaurant because of their skin color said they don’t plan to sue, but do want to see change.
At a sometimes-tearful news conference Tuesday where men, women and children who were in the group talked about their experience, attorney Cannon Lambert said the family wanted to push Buffalo Wild Wings and its parent company, Georgia-based Inspire Brands, to admit that the episode never should have happened. Marcus Riley, Ashley Smith and Mary and Justin Vahl of Montgomery, four of the adults involved in the incident, spoke at the conference, surrounded by the 12 children who were with them at the restaurant.
“We don’t have to file a lawsuit because there is no need to file if there is no disagreement on this not being right,” said Lambert, who is representing the families. “If you agree with us that this should never have happened, then we look forward to talking to you further.”
On Oct. 26, Justin Vahl and Marcus Riley brought their family and friends to Buffalo Wild Wings, at 2555 W. 75th St. in Naperville, to celebrate one of the children’s birthdays. After explaining their group had 18 people rather than 15 as he initially thought, Vahl said the host inquired about his skin color.
“He asked me, ‘What race are you?’ ” Vahl said. “I was appalled and astonished. I was in a restaurant to take my family, friends and kids and I’m being asked what race I am? I responded, ‘What does that matter?’ and the host said we have a regular customer who doesn’t want to sit around black people.”
They decided to be seated anyway, but then were told they had to move because the seats they were given were reserved. Their initial seats were next to the racist customer and his partner, and the group concluded their seats really weren’t reserved for someone else.
At that, despite having already ordered appetizers and drinks, the group chose to leave.
Distraught over the incident, one of the members of the group, Mary Vahl, explained what happened on social media, which has drawn national attention to the incident.
Now the family says they want to see changes at Buffalo Wild Wings as they try to turn an awful experience into a teachable moment. Buffalo Wild Wings has announced that the employees involved that evening have been fired, but Lambert said the restaurant and its parent company still haven’t done close to enough.
After the conference, a Buffalo Wild Wings spokesperson issued a response.
“We believe that we can fully and positively address the requests that were made this morning,” spokeswoman Claire Kudlata said in an email. “We look forward to having a productive conversation with the guests. We’ve reached out and are awaiting responses so that we can establish an ongoing and open dialogue.”
Lambert said Buffalo Wild Wings needs to take some steps to eliminate the possibility of this happening again. He talked about a zero-tolerance policy for racially bigoted words and actions, the implementation of racial bias screening during hiring, as well as establishing a hotline for employees to report similar incidents that have gone unreported.
“We’re going into 2020 and we still have to deal with systemic racism,” Justin Vahl said. “It’s real and it still happens. We hear these stories and say it doesn’t happen around here, but yes it does.”
Ashley Smith said she didn’t expect to have to try to explain to her children why someone wouldn’t want to sit near them because of their skin color, but she did just that while other children were enjoying boneless wings and fries.
“It is Christian, it’s spiritual to forgive, but as to whether or not we will go to Buffalo Wild Wings again, that’s an open question,” Lambert said. “It’s an open question because we need to maintain dialogue. When we talk about being a good corporate citizen, we’re talking about someone, something, and this entity has a platform and we’re expecting them to use it.”
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