Members of the group posing for a photo taken by a member of their party after leaving the North Charleston Wild Wing Cafe on July 31, 2013.
Michael Brown (pictured below) and a group of 24 of his friends and family were looking to enjoy one last bite together at Wild Wing Cafe in North Charleston, S.C., before his cousin moved to Atlanta, but they ended up not being seated because one of the sitting White customers allegedly did not feel comfortable with their presence.
In an interview with NewsOne, Brown said that he and his party arrived at the cafe around 8 p.m on Wednesday July 31. According to Brown, he called ahead to notify the cafe staff that a large party would be coming. Once everyone arrived, they were told to wait for an area in the cafe to become available.
- Michael Brown
After 45 minutes, a member of their group allegedly asked the night manager for an update and was told the staff was still working on a spot. Another 45 minutes reportedly passed, and again, they asked about seating. “We’re working on it,” Brown remembers the manager telling the group.”We almost got it ready.” But around 10 p.m., the group grew impatient and asked what was going on.
“We asked [the shift manager], ‘Why can’t we sit in that area over there?’ Brown said, pointing to a row of empty tables in the cafe. “She said pretty much that costumer over there feels threatened by you guys and she asked that you not be seated by her.”
The manager did not say that the customer cited race as a reason why she was uncomfortable with the group, but Brown says when he saw that the sitting patron was White, it was impossible not to conclude that race was a factor.
“You can say it’s not racially motivated, but here’s the thing: If you’ve got two people who are in a conflict and the other person is eating and the other is sitting hungry after two hours, then we have a problem,” Brown said. “That’s unacceptable.”
Marlon Brown, another member of the group and Michael’s brother-in-law, told NewsOne that the manager should have been more honest with them about what was going on. “If this was the case, and [the manager] knew this was going on the whole time, she could have told us two hours ago and saved us all of this time, and we could have eaten somewhere else,” he said.
At one point during the ordeal, Marlon pulled out his cellphone to record what was happening. It was at that point that the manager allegedly asked the group to leave the establishment, a request that baffled Michael.
“I said, So you’re telling me, after you made me wait for two hours, and discriminate against me, and have us waiting and we called ahead — all of these things and we actually still want to patronize your establishment. Now you [are] telling me you want to kick me out?” he reportedly asked the manager.
But before they parted ways, they took a group photo (pictured at top) that has since gone viral. The next day, members of the group wrote e-mails and made phone calls to Wild Wing Cafe’s corporate office in Mount Pleasant to complain about their experience. However, Brown says three weeks went by without a reply. So he took to Facebook to express his anger:
This caught Wild Wing Cafe’s attention, so they reached out to Brown.
The group was offered a free meal for their trouble, but Brown said that’s not enough. “We went there to patronize the business,” he said. “It really wasn’t about a free meal.”
All Points Public Relations, a public relations firm that is representing Wild Wing Cafe, released a statement to NewsOne in which the company admits that they did not respond to any of the group members e-mails and phone calls until August 22. The company also stated that “a breakdown in our own internal communication,” not race, spurred the July 31 incident:
We understand the magnitude of the larger conversation that is taking place and we regret that it has gotten to this point because of a failure to respond to a customer complaint three weeks earlier. We understand the frustrations that are felt because of our lack of responsiveness. It is inexcusable.
As soon as the owners and the senior management team were made aware of the situation on the afternoon of Thursday, August 22, we responded swiftly.
We are incredibly disappointed and sorry that any guest felt disrespected or discriminated against. The customers have a right to be upset with our lack of timely responsiveness. However, the color of their skin did not play a part in this situation. It was a breakdown in our own internal communication.
I can assure you that we have zero tolerance for discrimination of any kind and that there is a full and ongoing review of the entire incident. Our ownership group, home office staff, and restaurant staff represent the diversity that our great country is made up of and these accusations do not reflect our values. The incident that occurred in the restaurant is under investigation. The manager involved is on leave while we continue the investigation.
Wild Wing is a place for all people, and we continuously strive to make sure that anybody that walks in the doors of Wild Wing is treated with love, and utmost respect and care. We have had productive conversations with members of the 25-person party, and will continue to do so. There are meetings scheduled for this week with members of the party.
Action has been taken internally throughout Wild Wing Cafe to make certain that we avoid future failures to respond to customer issues.
At this point, further details of the action being taken are part of the internal review and ongoing private conversations with members of the 25-person party.
Since the story has gone national, Wild Wing Cafe’s Facebook page has been inundated with comments on every status update, most of which support the group. Many commenters implore the company to fire the shift manager who asked the group to leave. Others say the company should be sued.
When NewsOne asked Brown what he and other group members wanted to happen next, he said that they planned to meet and discuss the “pros and cons” of what they want their next steps to be. Brown added that the group and Wild Wing Cafe management planned on meeting this week to discuss the incident.
There is some irony to this whole situation, though. Last year, Wild Wing Cafe, which has some 20-plus restaurants throughout the country, was bought by private equality firm Axum Capital Partners of Charlotte, N.C, according to The Post and Courier. One of its managing directors is Muhsin Muhammad, an African-American and former pro-football player for the Chicago Bears and the Carolina Panthers. In a video interview, he explains how his professional sports and entertainment connections will help him build the restaurant chain’s brand. “I’m excited about how big Wild Wing Cafe can be,” he said.
Coming from the multi-billion dollar enterprise that is the NFL where the vast majority of players are Black, Muhammad knows all too well the need to ensure that a brand does not alienate an economic base that can produce revenue. On July 31, the Wild Wing Cafe in North Charleston lost 25 customers. If the chain does not adequately address the social media uproar alone that has taken over its social media platforms, it stands to lose many more.
And here is the kicker: What if Muhammad or a notable Black celebrity had experienced the poor service that night instead of Brown and his friends?
As we approach the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I have a dream speech,” it seems like racial prejudice is still keeping us away from having a seat at the counter–even if a Black man has a financial stake in it.
Aug 27, 2013
By Terrell Jermaine Starr