Chili’s removes manager who took back free meal on Veterans Day

Protestors outside Chili's restaurant in Cedar Hill on Saturday.The restaurant manager took away a veteran's free meal on Veterans Day.
Protestors outside Chili's restaurant in Cedar Hill on Saturday.The restaurant manager took away a veteran's free meal on Veterans Day. Star-Telegram

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.


I was approached by an old white guy, maybe in his 70s, with a Trump Shirt, at Chili's on Veteran's Day yesterday. He asked if I was in the 24th unit, and I said "no the 25th". TRICK QUESTION. He said he was in Germany, and that they did not let Blacks serve over there. He left to the back, and came back and rubbed my dog Barack, who is a service dog. I was seated and eating my food. The waitress packed the rest of my food in a to go box because I had to go pick up my wife. I got my food and tipped the waitress. Then the Manager, MR. Wesley Patrick, comes from the same area in the back, walked up, and rudly informs me that a guest said that I was not a real soldier because I had my hat on indoors. Other guests heard him. He asked for my military ID, I was calm, and provided it to him. I also provided him with my DD214 which is my discharge paperwork. At that point he should have just said "I am sorry Sir, thank you for your service' Instead he followed up with "the guest also said your dog is not a service dog." Barack had his Red Service Vest on, and his Certified Service Tags. I was sitting for 35 minutes prior with Barack beforehand. At this point I was grossly offended embarrassed dehumanized and started Recording...Mr. Wesley snatched my food away, made body contact

Posted by Ernest Blackbatman on Saturday, November 12, 2016

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.

Mark David Smith: 817-390-7808, @MarkSmith_FWST