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Restaurant investigating diners' claim they were kicked out over race

Aug. 27, 2013 at 5:08 PM ET

The group that was asked to leave the restaurant.
Calvin Brown
The group that was asked to leave the restaurant.

A restaurant accused of evicting a group of black diners after a white customer allegedly complained she felt "threatened" by them is investigating the incident, vowing to take "proper measures" if it's found that discrimination took place.

Mike Brown, a 34-year-old music publisher and youth pastor, says he and a group of 25 family members and friends waited two hours for a table at the Wild Wing Café in North Charleston, S.C. When they asked about available seating in an empty area, Brown says a manager at the popular chain told him that wouldn't be possible, as another customer had requested Brown's party sit elsewhere because she felt “threatened."

Brown later learned that the customer, a younger white woman, had had a brief run-in with a member of his party earlier in the restaurant’s lobby, where she stepped on a woman's foot from Brown's group. According to Brown, the women exchanged words, and the customer who ultimately complained to the manager cursed at the woman in Brown's party. Brown's group was then asked to leave when one member began to use a smartphone to record their conversation with the manager over the seating issue.

Brown sought an explanation and apology from the company the following day — Aug. 1 — but said that voice mails and inquiries to both the restaurant and its corporate headquarters in nearby Mt. Pleasant went unreturned for weeks. That silence prompted him to take to Facebook on Aug. 22 where he vowed never to go back to the restaurant, in a post that has since gone viral.

An attempt by TODAY.com to reach a company representative at the restaurant was referred to corporate headquarters. Debra Stokes, chief marketing officer for Wild Wing Café, told TODAY.com that an “internal communication issue” hampered the company’s response, and says she wasn't even aware of the confrontation until Brown's Facebook post.

Stokes said the company has hired an independent firm to get an “unbiased account” of what transpired, and vowed action depending on the findings. “We’re wanting resolution for everyone involved,” she said.

The North Charleston restaurant also posted an apology to its Facebook page on Aug. 25, writing "We are truly disappointed and sorry that any guests of ours felt disrespected or discriminated against...We can assure you that we will not tolerate any discriminatory behavior in our organization."

“We don’t discriminate,” Stokes reiterated, noting that the company also holds diversity training for its employees. “We embrace diversity and we always have. We welcome anyone into our restaurants and strive to make sure their experience was fantastic.”

Brown spoke with Stokes last week in a conversation that both described as amicable, but Brown is not yet satisfied with the company’s response. Stokes offered to host his group again for a free meal, but Brown would prefer a public apology and a gesture to ensure that the company’s employees — from hostesses to servers to management — live up to the non-discrimination policy set forth by its owners.

“She meant well by offering my family to come back in and feed us,” Brown said, “but at that point it’s insulting, because we came to patronize the restaurant, we’re not looking for a free meal.”

Brown and Stokes are scheduled to meet Wednesday to discuss a resolution, and Brown and his friends have thought of one potential outcome they’d like to see from the incident: a panel discussion or “unity event” held to “bridge the gap” in Charleston when it comes to race.

“I totally love my city, but the only thing I don’t like is the racial undertones,” Brown said. “There are certain clothing stores I can’t go to without them following me around. That type of pain — you get used to it, you learn to carry that burden. But at some point, some things are just blatant, disrespectful and unacceptable.

“I think we need to make a way to bridge the gap and bring a true sense of community,” he said.

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