A man got a free Veterans Day meal at Chili's in Cedar Hill, then a manager took it away | Restaurants | Dallas News

A man got a free Veterans Day meal at Chili's in Cedar Hill, then a manager took it away

Filed under Restaurants at 12 hrs ago

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Profile image for Julieta Chiquillo Julieta Chiquillo, The Dallas Morning News
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For his free meal on Veterans Day, Ernest Walker picked the Chili's Grill and Bar in Cedar Hill. The 47-year-old sat at a table and ordered a burger while his service dog Barack waited by his side.

Chili's is apologizing for what happened next.

As Walker tells it, an elderly white man wearing a Donald Trump shirt approached him and said that he was in Germany and that blacks weren't allowed to serve there. Walker, who is black, says he was wearing his old Army uniform.

The man walked to the back of the restaurant, Walker says, and a waitress came to pack his leftovers. Then a manager showed up.

In a widely shared Facebook post, Walker wrote that the manager claimed another guest said Walker was not "a real soldier" because he was wearing his hat indoors. Walker said he provided a military ID at the manager's request, along with his discharge papers.

"The guest also said your dog is not a service dog," Walker says the manager told him.

That's when Walker says he turned his cellphone camera on.

"Barack had his red service vest on, and his certified service tags," Walker wrote. "I was sitting for 35 minutes prior with Barack beforehand. At this point I was grossly offended, embarrassed dehumanized and started recording."

The video shows Walker arguing with the manager about whether he has seen Walker's military information. The manager grabs his leftovers as Walker talks over him.

"You have a great day," the manager says before walking away with the to-go box.

"Yes, I did just provide documents for you, and they saw you," Walker replies.

The manager couldn't be reached for comment Sunday.

Chili's Grill and Bar said in a prepared statement that it has apologized and is "reaching out" to Walker.

"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," the statement said. "We are taking this very seriously and the leaders in our company are actively involved with the goal of making it right."

The restaurant replied to critics on Facebook with a similar message.

Walker said Sunday afternoon that Chili's hasn't personally apologized to him.

"I need to be validated publicly," he said.

Walker said he was stationed in Hawaii in the 25th Infantry Division during the late 1980s. He blames the reaction of the Chili's manager to the prodding of the Trump supporter.

"I do believe that the election has changed the hearts and changed the motives of people so much so that he believed in his heart and mind after talking to the Trump supporter that I was stealing food," Walker said.

To make matters worse, Walker says, the manager didn't believe his service dog was real.

Federal law defines service animals as those that have been individually trained to assist a person with a disability, regardless of whether they have been certified or licensed by a state or local government. Restaurants that ban pets are required to allow service animals.

Though service dogs usually wear special tags or gear, sometimes they're not obvious. In that case, the U.S. Department of Justice tells businesses that they may ask a customer two specific questions: Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability? What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?

Federal rules prohibit businesses from asking customers about the nature of their disability or demanding documentation for the service animal.

Updated at 5:04 p.m.: Revised to include comments from Ernest Walker.

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