Any time a restaurant has to issue a tersely worded statement that involves phrases like “no tolerance for discrimination” or “make every guest feel welcome,” you know it’s probably because one of its employees has been a dick to its customers. Sambuca 360, a self-described “rockin’ American grill” in Plano, Texas, is no exception.
On Saturday night, author and motivational speaker Johnny Wimbrey and his wife, Crystal, went to Sambuca for dinner and drinks, just as they’d done dozens of times before. They were given menus, but minutes later, instead of taking their order, a manager came over and told the couple that he needed them to change their seats. “I said, 'No I think we want to sit here. We have a great view. It's only a table for two.' We declined the offer respectfully,” Wimbrey told WFAA.
That’s when things went wrong. The manager allegedly told the Wimbreys, who are black, that he wanted their table for a customer who was a regular—and also happened to be white. Wimbrey politely told the man sorry, but he’d be staying put. He also pulled out his phone and started recording.
“You can pay the tab, but you’re leaving,” the as-yet-unidentified manager said. When Wimbrey asked why he was being told to leave, the manager said “Because I don’t like you.” (Read that again, because those are actual words that came out of the manager’s mouth, as seen in the video.) After Wimbrey repeatedly asked the man what he’d done wrong, he threatened to call the police.
“What you’re doing wrong is you’re trespassing,” the manager said. “Time to go.”
“Just like Starbucks?” Wimbrey asked.
“No, nothing like Starbucks,” he said. “Time to go.”
Actually, the situation appeared quite a lot like the incident that recently took place at a Starbucks in Philadelphia, when a manager accused two black men waiting for a friend of trespassing and called the police a mere two minutes after they walked in. But while Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson were removed from that Starbucks in handcuffs, the Wimbreys left Sambuca before the cops arrived.
“The Plano police show up. They jump out of the car and I thought what would happen if I didn't leave?” Wimbrey said. His attorney, Bobbie Edmunds, has requested to hear a recording of the 911 call that the restaurant placed.
"You have to remain calm under these circumstances to get out alive, and that is unfortunate for people of color,” Edmunds told Newsweek. "This a teachable moment for many. Some people get out alive, and some don't. We want to make it right, and we hope the company wants to make it right for Johnny and his family."
Another difference between the Starbucks incident and Sambuca is that the manager at the former was swiftly removed from their position (a decision the company described as “mutual”) while the manager at the latter still seems to be employed as of press time. He is not mentioned in Sambuca’s apology and, instead of addressing his strangely aggressive behavior, the press statement places blame on a different employee—the host.
“We apologize for the miscommunication with our guest on Saturday night, which resulted from a mix-up at our host stand,” the restaurant told WFAA. “Sambuca has no tolerance for discrimination and always wants to make every guest feel welcome and respected."
“The bar area of 360 is high energy and often filled with numerous guests standing to enjoy the live music, and, unfortunately, the waitress did not realize that Mr. Wimbrey had not been sat at the table by the hostess,” read another statement that Sambuca 360 gave to Newsweek. “Our guests, who had made prior reservations for the table a week in advance, arrived after Mr. Wimbrey had ordered drinks at the table and a manager approached Mr. Wimbrey to let him know that the guests were waiting to be seated at the table they had reserved.” The restaurant also reiterated that the manager did not make any racial remarks during the incident.
As of Thursday afternoon, the restaurant’s Yelp rating has plummeted to two stars.
Wimbrey told Newsweek that he has spent “tens of thousands of dollars” at Sambuca, and has even rented the entire joint out for private parties more than once.
Now, Sambuca is facing thousands of negative comments online, engulfed in a full-on PR crisis, and likely wondering whether “making every guest feel welcome” sounds like a sincere enough apology.