Naperville Buffalo Wild Wings controversy forces early conversation with children about racism

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NAPERVILLE, Ill. — The controversy at a Naperville Buffalo Wild Wings has forced a tough conversation about race, not just for the community, but for the young children who were there to witness the incident.

Marcus Riley is looking for the lesson, or lessons, to be learned from the racial incident on Oct. 26. Riley, Justin Vahl, their wives and group of about 12 children, including their own, went to the Buffalo Wild Wings after a basketball tournament.

Vahl said the host, a young black man, asked him a somewhat rude question. He said he asked him, "What race are you guys?” Vahl said he responded with, "What does it matter?"

Now that time has passed, Vahl realizes that the host was actually trying to give him a heads up about what he and his family and friends were about to face.

“He was trying to give us the heads up that there’s a racists customer and that’s why he wanted to ask us what race we were,” Vahl said.

The group was still seated, only to be told they needed to move to another area because a couple sitting near them didn’t want to sit next to black people. Riley said he has since learned, this couple and their racial beliefs were well known to the staff.

“He’s built a relationship that they cater to, they’ve made it ok that he dine there, how many victims have fell to him and not even known,” Riley said.

The group made the decision to leave. On the way out, other customers gave them hugs, employees looked embarrassed, he said one even cried.

Riey said what was most hurtful was the questions from the kids.

“'Coach are we getting kicked out?’ ‘Coach, why don’t they like us?’ ‘Coach what’s going on?’” Riley said. “It was tough obviously to have that conversation.

Riley said the incident has sped up the clock on the discussion he planned to have with his two young sons. But he believes the way they handled the situation spoke the loudest.

“We weren’t inappropriate; we did nothing wrong. So now they know how to wear that hat, they’ve seen it done the right way, they know we weren’t kicked out, they understand we chose to, not force we chose to spend our money wisely, we choose to spend our money were we are appreciated,” Riley said.

The day after the incident, one of the adults wrote about the experience on Facebook. Her post went viral with thousands of shares.

Buffalo Wild Wings has fired the two managers — one of whom was black. The couple who asked that the group be moved has been banned from all of its restaurants for life, but Riley and Vahl fear it may not be enough.

“We still don’t know who they are so if that’s not public knowledge, how do they enforce the fact that they are going to ban this customer and how are they going to apply this sensitivity training, what does that look like,” Vahl said.

“At the end of the day, what we’re trying to do is make sure that it doesn’t happen to others,” Vahl said.

A spokesperson with Buffalo Wild Wings released the following statement following Tuesday's news conference:

We believe that we can fully and positively address the requests that were made this morning.  We look forward to having a productive conversation with the guests.  We’ve reached out and are awaiting responses, so that we can establish an ongoing and open dialogue.

Gov. JB Pritkzer has reached out to Vahl, Riley and the rest of the group and wants to meet with them. They hope that will happen in the next few weeks.

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