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updated: 11/4/2019 6:42 PM

Responses call for action after black diners asked to move at Naperville restaurant

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  • Two people among a group of 18 diners, most of them black, at the Buffalo Wild Wings on 75th Street in Naperville said they were asked to move because others didn't want to sit near them. Two managers at the restaurant have been fired.

    Two people among a group of 18 diners, most of them black, at the Buffalo Wild Wings on 75th Street in Naperville said they were asked to move because others didn't want to sit near them. Two managers at the restaurant have been fired.
    Courtesy of ABC 7 Chicago

  • Michael Childress

    Michael Childress

  • Regina Brent

    Regina Brent

  • Benjamin White

    Benjamin White

  • Steve Chirico

    Steve Chirico

 
 

City and black leaders are issuing a variety of calls to action after reports that a multiracial group of customers was mistreated at a Naperville restaurant.

Calls to boycott Buffalo Wild Wings restaurants, to speak up whenever racism is evident and to get involved proactively in community-building efforts arose Monday after news that a group of 18 diners, most of them black, was asked to move because others didn't want to sit near them at the Buffalo Wild Wings on 75th Street in Naperville.

Mary and Justin Vahl of Montgomery both posted on social media about the encounter, in which they said a host at the restaurant asked "What race are you guys?" before seating the group. They said their group left after two managers later asked them to move.

"My husband asked him why it mattered and the host responded that a table with 2 of their 'regular customers' were next to where we were to be seated and he didn't want us sitting there because (the customer is) 'racist,'" Mary Vahl wrote in a now-viral Facebook post.

Michael Childress, president of the DuPage County NAACP, said anyone angry with the situation, which happened Oct. 26 and resulted in the firing of the two managers who were involved, should voice that dissatisfaction using their pocketbooks.

"I would not spend another dime in Buffalo Wild Wings, and I would certainly not encourage anyone else to until they change their practices and behaviors," Childress said Monday.

Childress said he is bringing the issue to the attention of state and national leaders in the NAACP, hoping the organization will take up the cause against discriminatory treatment he believes is a pattern. He said the idea of public action against restaurants because of discriminatory practices dates to the lunch counter sit-ins to protest segregation in the 1960s.

Childress and Naperville City Council member Benjamin White both called on anyone who experiences unfair treatment as a result of race to bring it to light.

"This shouldn't be tolerated," White said. "People should speak up."

Eve Ewing, a University of Chicago professor, author and poet, drew additional attention to the case in a series of Twitter posts, saying it's wrong to react with disbelief that discrimination still occurs.

"White people, I gotta tell ya, it's great to be horrified, great to be upset, great to be mad at racism. Please be all of these things," she wrote. "But when you express genuine surprise, the rest of us are judging you, because it just shows that you don't listen."

To encourage listening and communication, White has started a series of conversations called Naperville Neighbors United. One session in September drew about 80 participants to discuss implicit bias, he said, and another is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 20, at the Naperville Municipal Center, 400 S. Eagle St.

Regina Brent has been involved with Naperville Neighbors United in her role as founder and president of Unity Partnership, which has worked since 2016 to foster relationships between police and minority communities, help with youth development and conduct outreach. She said implicit-bias workshops aren't needed so much for the people who seek them out, such as those who attend Neighbors United meetings, but for those whose actions prove a lack of understanding, such as the terminated managers and the "regular customers" who did not want to sit near the multiracial group.

"There must be some accountability on the part of those people who inflict this kind of racism on others," Brent said.

The restaurant chain has not named the employees who were fired but said in a statement it "values an inclusive environment and has zero tolerance for discrimination of any kind." A spokesperson on Monday said Buffalo Wild Wings has been in contact with the adults in the group of 18 "to understand their account of what happened and to offer our deepest apologies for any unacceptable behavior."

Later Monday, the chain said the customer who made the complaint has been permanently banned from every Buffalo Wild Wings location nationwide, ABC 7 Chicago reported, and the company will also hold additional sensitivity and diversity training at all Chicago-area locations.

Brent, like Childress and White, said anyone afraid of racism needs to make their presence, their needs and their respectability visible in their community.

"I do feel like the responsibility solely lies within our own laps," Brent said. "If you're not involved in your community, then those things are going to happen and they're going to catch you by surprise."

Naperville Mayor Steve Chirico said he reached out to the Vahls to apologize for what happened and to tell them "how you responded was the best way you could."

Justin Vahl did not return a call seeking comment on Monday. But on Sunday he said the issue was "not reconciled" and his family was discussing possible legal action with attorneys.

• Daily Herald staff writer Steve Zalusky contributed to this report.