Community members and activists are calling on people to boycott Benihana in Golden Valley after its manager's alleged discriminatory behavior toward five Black women after they asked for their table to be cleaned.
St. Paul Public Schools Board member Chauntyll Allen, who founded Black Lives Matter Twin Cities and Love First, was celebrating her birthday at the restaurant on March 29 with four others, including activist Raeisha Williams, an elder, and a toddler, Williams explained at a March 31 news conference outside the restaurant, which independent journalist KingDemetrius Pendleton streamed on Facebook.
They had asked the manager to make sure their table was clean and sanitized per COVID-19 guidelines but the manager refused and asked them to leave, Williams said.
"This was really disappointing and disturbing that I didn't have even the right to ask for a clean table," Allen said at the news conference, adding she felt "belittled."
Williams said they asked the manager "numerous times" if she could provide a reason or a policy as to why she was refusing them service "and she did not provide that."
She said they decided not to leave the restaurant and claims they repeatedly asked the manager to help them understand what they did wrong so they don't make the same mistake in the future.
"After about 5 minutes of standing there and refusing to speak, she called the Golden Valley Police Department, who then arrived on scene," Williams said, noting they were streaming part of the incident on Facebook Live.
In the video, the officer references them being possibly unruly but they say they couldn't be denied service based on discrimination. During the news conference, the diners said the police spoke to the manager first and they had to demand their side of the story be heard.
Joanne Paul of the Golden Valley Police Department told Bring Me The News officers were called to Benihana, but there was no report taken. No enforcement action was taken and the group left on their own, Paul added.
Allen and Williams said people call police on Black people all the time, citing George Floyd. And in this incident, Allen said they were just asking for something simple — a clean table during a pandemic — and had the police called on them.
"I was put into danger having the police called on me," Allen said during the news conference. "It's not OK."
Allen and the other diners are calling on the community to boycott Benihana's Golden Valley location.
"We don't have to tolerate this. ... We don't have to continue to give our dollars to companies who don't even see us as value," Allen said.
They've also issued a list of demands for the restaurant, including the termination of the manager, with Allen noting since the incident she's heard similar stories involving the same manager.
"If she's not removed, it tells me Benihana actually accepts this as part of their culture," Allen said.
They're also asking for a public apology from the Benihana corporation; anti-racism training for staff; a corporate-wide policy against calling the police on people of color; and having the company pay culinary arts tuition for five African American students each year for the existence of the company, according to a news release.
“As a St. Paul Public Schools board member, I don’t expect special treatment when I go out to restaurants, but as a Black woman who works on behalf of my community, I do expect to be treated with dignity," Allen said in a statement. "I was excited about celebrating my birthday with my wife and my closest friends, but the Benihana manager’s discriminatory treatment turned my celebration into a nightmare. I don’t want to see other Black customers treated like second-class citizens in businesses they patronize."
Bring Me The News has reached out to Benihana for comment. In a statement to the Star Tribune, Jeannie Means, vice president of marketing for Benihana Inc., said they've received a "guest communication" about the incident.
"We take these matters very seriously and we are in contact with these guests as part of a thorough investigation into the matter," she told the paper.