Dallas-based Chili’s restaurant chain has apologized and removed a manager from his job after a video showed the manager taking away a man’s free meal on Veterans Day.
Ernest Walker, 47, went to Chili’s Grill and bar Friday for the chain’s promotion of a free meal for veterans. Walker said he brought his military ID, discharge papers and service dog, Barack, and sat down to eat.
Walker, who is black, wrote on Facebook that an elderly white man wearing a Donald Trump shirt approached him and “he said he was in Germany, and that they did not let blacks serve over there.” The man left, came back to pet Walker’s dog, and left again.
Later, as Walker was getting ready to leave with a to-go box to pick up his wife, a manager he identified as Wesley Patrick approached him from the same area where the older man had come from, Walker wrote.
The manager said a customer told him that Walker is “not a real soldier because I had my hat on indoors,” and customers nearby could hear him, Walker wrote. Walker showed him his military ID and discharge papers, and then the manager told him “the guest also said your dog is not a service dog,” though “Barack had his service vest on, and his certified service tags.”
That’s where the video picks up, Walker wrote, where the manager refused to acknowledge Walker’s military documents and took away his to-go box. The video has been viewed more than 260,000 times.
Chili’s responded to the incident in a Facebook comment, saying “we fell short” to “make every guest feel special,” and the situation has been “escalated to the highest levels of our company.”
‘We took swift action’
In a statement Monday, Chili’s President Kelli Valade said, “We took swift action and immediately removed our manager from the restaurant,” according to CBS 11.
Chili’s and its parent company, Brinker International Restaurants, talked with Walker and his attorney, Lee Merritt, on Monday, Merritt said.
“They said this was the last thing they wanted to see happen to any customer,” Merritt said. “He accepted their apology.”
Merritt said “we want to be creative” in how the dispute is resolved to show “we’re still a community of American people.”
“Mr. Walker was not interested in seeing the young man fired,” Merritt said. “He felt that he had made a mistake to the extent that he could own up to it. … The end result doesn’t have to be hostility. If it could be a benefit to the Dallas community, that would be an end goal for us.”
A fundraiser was launched online Monday afternoon to “Buy Veteran Ernest Walker Dinner.” The GoFundMe page had a $100 goal, but has quickly risen above $1,500 by noon Tuesday. Walker wrote about it on Facebook Monday.
“I truly appreciate it, all I really ever wanted was to finish my Chili's burger on my special day,” Walker wrote. “But there are thousands of hungry Veterans that are Forgotten and Homeless. So I challenge America to raise enough money to Feed A Million Soldiers !”
Walker told NBCDFW that he served in the Army’s 25th Infantry Division from 1987 to 1991. On Facebook, he shared an old military photo, saying he was a homeless teenager sleeping behind a grocery store when a recruiter saw him. He said signing up for military service saved his life.