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Memphis Restaurateurs Face Allegations of Discrimination

Activist LJ Abraham led the protest outside of the Midtown restaurant.
Katie Riordan
Activist LJ Abraham led the protest outside of the Midtown restaurant.

 

Activist LJ Abraham led the protest outside of the Midtown restaurant.
Credit Katie Riordan
Activist LJ Abraham led the protest outside of the Midtown restaurant.

 Listen to an audio version of the story.

An update to this story is below.   

Memphis restaurant owners accused of discriminatory practices were protested for a second night on Sunday as diners at Porch and Parlor in Midtown faced shouts and jeers from a crowd of about 40 telling them not to patronize the business.

“Don’t go in there. They’re racist and sexist,” members of the crowd shouted as customers neared the entrance.

At times confronting those dining on the outdoor patio, protesters called out the restaurant’s owners, who are also behind Downtown’s Flight Restaurant and Wine Bar, Southern Social in Germantown and the Coastal Fish Company at Shelby Farms. 

Former employers have accused some of the businesses of seating African American customers in less prominent areas, and keeping minority employees behind-the-scenes.

Co-owner Russ Graham said in a statement Monday that the restaurant group is still reviewing allegations, but apologized if the "leadership team" had “been insensitive in any way.”

“We realize that we need to be reflective, to listen and to learn as we move forward,” he said, adding thatdiversity and inclusion training for staffwill follow. 

He denied the specific allegation that a tacit policy at Flight Restaurant was to seat African American patrons away from the windows as to not be seen from the street.  “The nature of our seating arrangements are that 64 percent of our dining room seating is located upstairs,” he said. “It’s simply not true that we seat anyone based on race, parties are seated based on party size, at the request of the party and as available wait staff dedicates.” 

But on Sunday night, activist Chris Jordan was intent on getting people to take their business elsewhere.

“You have people who are giving their money to a racist company, and that’s not fair. You want our money, but you don’t technically care for us,” Jordan said. 

After being confronted by protestors, some customers turned around before entering the restaurant while drawing cheers from the crowd. Others were clearly uncomfortable, agitated and angered by the demonstrators’ presence. At one point, someone shouted from the patio, asking the protesters why they were attacking private business. 

On Sunday, the crowd briefly blocked traffic at the intersection of Madison and Cooper outside the restaurant. The previous night,during a similar demonstration, a motorist is accused of attempting to drive through the blockade. He was arrested and charged with reckless endangerment and reckless driving.  

Update 6/17/20

On Tuesday, the Flight Restaurant and Wine Bar announced via a Facebook postthat Russ Graham would no longer be affiliated with the restaurant group. The mangement group also said they will hire an outside human resources firm "to evaluate all policies, procedures and standards to make sure we are taking care of our employees" and continue to investigate specific allegations. 

"We want to make clear that we will not tolerate in any of our restaurant groups – discrimination in any form, against any group," the statement reads. "We are going to treat everyone completely equally and we also want be clear we will not accept abusive behavior by owners, managers or other team members to any other person."  

Copyright 2020 WKNO

Katie joined the WKNO team in 2019. She's always eager to hear your story ideas. You can email her at kriordan@wkno.org