The restaurant chain Chipotle announced Saturday that it had terminated one of its managers for suggesting in a viral video that five black customers were planning to order food without paying — but on Sunday, the company acknowledged to Fox News that it was considering re-hiring the manager because her suspicions may have been well-founded.
In a series of video clips seen more than 3 million times on Twitter, a Chipotle customer in St. Paul, Minn., identifed as 21-year-old Masud Ali, and several friends are told by a manager: “You gotta pay, because you’ve never had money when you come in here.” An employee adds, “We’re not gonna make food unless you guys actually have money.”
As Ali and his friends complain about “stereotypes,” the videos, which were recorded and uploaded by Ali, show employees at the store claiming that the group had previously ordered food on two occasions without paying.
In one video clip, the manager smiles and tries to ignore the men while produce what appears to be cash, as proof that they can pay for their food. One of the employees visible in the kitchen is black.
“It sounded really racist — the way she said it was racist,” Ali told Minnesota’s Star Tribune newspaper on Friday. “She asked for proof of income as if I’m getting a loan.” On Twitter, Ali asked Chipotle: “Can a group of young well-established African-American get a bite to eat after a long workout session?”
Ali also posted the restaurant’s phone number and address to social media. Within hours and under a deluge of criticism, Chipotle issued a statement implying that the manager had acted out of bias and announcing her termination. But on Sunday, Chipotle walked back its decision.
“Our actions were based on the facts known to us immediately after the incident, including video footage, social media posts and conversations with the customer, manager, and our employees,” Chipotle Chief Communications Officer Laurie Schalow told Fox News on Sunday. “We now have additional information which needs to be investigated further. We want to do the right thing, so after further investigation we will re-train and re-hire if the facts warrant it.”
“After further investigation we will re-train and re-hire if the facts warrant it.”
In a previous statement on Saturday, the company had said: “We are committed to treating all of our customers fairly and with respect. … Regarding what happened at the St. Paul restaurant, the manager thought these gentlemen were the same customers from Tuesday night who weren’t able to pay for their meal. Regardless, this is not how we treat our customers and as a result, the manager has been terminated and the restaurant is being re-trained to ensure something like this doesn’t happen again.”
In a separate post on Twitter, another Chipotle representative, identified as Shaq, wrote Saturday: “We’re committed to treating everyone equally and with respect.”
In subsequent interviews, though, Chipotle representatives admitted that the manager might have been right in claiming that individuals in the group had ordered food just days before without paying.
“We are not able to confirm that with 100 percent certainty,” Laurie Schalow, chief communications officer with Chipotle, told The Twin Cities Pioneer Press. “We asked Masud if he was in our restaurant on Tuesday and he said no.”
And almost immediately, it emerged that Ali had apparently spoken favorably of “dining and dashing” — the practice of ordering food and not paying for it — several times on Twitter in the past.
“aye man i think chopotle catchin up to us fam. should we change locations and yoooooo what should we do about the other thang,” read a post on Ali’s account from 2016.
In 2015, he wrote that “we finna goto Applebees and eat as much as we can and tip the nice lady 20cents and walk the f— out.”
When another Twitter user objected, he replied that “we’re just borrowing the food for a couple hours” as opposed to dining and dashing.
Later that year, he opined that “Dine and dash is forever interesting” and discussed stealing Tabasco bottles from Chipotle.
Another post read: “Guys we’re borrowing food… that’s it. And if the lady tries to stop you at the door don’t hesitate to truck the sh– out of that bi—.”
“We finna goto Applebees and eat as much as we can and tip the nice lady 20cents and walk the f— out.”
As the information emerged, Chipotle initially told other outlets that the manager was properly terminated regardless, because it is always store policy to make food first, and withhold it if customers don’t pay.
Ali did not respond to Fox News’ request for comment.
The episode follows several other high-profile incidents of alleged racism that have rocked the service industry. In May, Starbucks closed 8,000 of its stores for anti-bias training after two black men were arrested for trespassing in one of its Philadelphia shops. The store manager, who stopped working at Starbucks shortly after the episode, had called the police because the men remained seated in the shop without ordering anything, and refused to order something when asked.
Earlier this year, a fired Chipotle manager who was accused of stealing $626 ended up winning nearly $8 million from the company in a wrongful termination suit.