Dallas-based restaurant chain Chili's Grill & Bar has apologized and vowed to correct a wrongdoing after a local restaurant manager took away a free meal offered to veterans on Veterans Day.
U.S. Army veteran Ernest Walker, 47, of Cedar Hill, Texas, said he was served the meal as part of a promotion offering U.S. military veterans free meals on Veterans Day.
Walker finished his food and was preparing to leave the restaurant when the trouble began.
Walker, accompanied by his service dog Barack, said he believes an elderly man wearing an American flag shirt and Trump sticker told the restaurant manager that Walker was wearing his cap indoors and was not a U.S. veteran and should not receive the free meal.
In an encounter captured on video by Walker and posted to Facebook, the manager asked for Walker's military ID, which he provided. Walker also provided his discharge paperwork.
Walker said the manager then took his to-go meal.
"I looked around and I'm embarrassed at this point," Walker said. "People are looking. I'm a soldier. I'm a person and everybody's looking like I stole food."
The manager also indicated the service dog was not a service dog, despite having a red service vest and certified service tags.
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On Sunday, Chili's issued the following statement on Walker's Facebook page and to NBCDFW. It reads:
"We are aware of the situation that occurred at our Chili's Cedar Hill restaurant on November 11th. Our goal is to make every guest feel special and unfortunately we fell short on a day where we serve more than 180,000 free meals as a small token to honor our Veterans and active military for their service, hence these actions do not reflect the beliefs of our brand. We are taking this very seriously and the leaders in our company are actively involved with the goal of making it right. Since the incident occurred, we have extended an apology and we are reaching out to the guest."
"They're doing what they should do, but they still haven't validated me as a soldier," said Walker. "I just need him to say, 'I see your ID, I see your DD214, and I respect you as a soldier, and as a man and as a customer.'"
Walker said he served in the Army's 25th Infantry Division, serving from 1987 to 1991. He said he was in an Army uniform without his name or rank on it on Veterans Day because he did not want to be mistaken for an active-duty soldier.
"I wear this one day a year," said Walker. "I'm not some kook that's reliving the past."
Monday, Chili's issued an additional statement saying they had spoken with the veteran and had removed the manager from the restaurant. Walker's attorney Kim Cole said the manager has been suspended pending an investigation by the company.
"Today, we personally apologized to Mr. Walker for the unfortunate experience in our restaurant on Veterans Day and thanked him for his service to our country. We also thanked him for taking the time to speak with us and he appreciated our apology. Our goal is to make every Guest that walks into our restaurants feel special and we fully own that one of our restaurants fell short on an important day where we strive to honor our veterans and active military for their service. We took swift action and immediately removed our manager from the restaurant. We are now in the process of working with Mr. Walker on a resolution that promotes trust and healing."
Monday afternoon, the mayor of Cedar Hill, Rob Franke, said the situation was not reflective of his community and that people should be concerned for the veteran as well as the restaurant's manager.
Franke's entire statement can be read below:
This is not what we are about. I find it sad and much too prevalent in our society today that we apply the actions of individuals to entire cities and entire groups, and in so doing make the exception the rule. This situation is indeed the exception in Cedar Hill. It is interesting to me that just yesterday afternoon, on the patio at City Hall, we had a ceremony honoring and praying for veterans and their service dogs. We hosted veterans and their service dogs from several cities around Cedar Hill as we honored their service, dedication, training, and hearts of giving. These positives expression of community and unity don’t get the recognition they deserve. I also find it sad that we, as a people, too easily resort to demonstrations to express our frustration and the wrongs of this world rather than taking the harder and more sustainable route of working things out. My concern for the veteran is paramount, but we must also consider the manager and how he can become a better person and perhaps do better the next time he is put in a difficult situation. People do best and learn the most from experience. To learn requires patience and grace, neither of which can occur in the heat of emotion, demonstration, and anger. Please know, this situation is not reflective of our community, nor the way we prefer to handle wrongs. Peace and blessings, Rob Franke.