A man got a free Veterans Day meal at Texas Chili's. Then a manager took it away.

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Ernest Walker shared a photo on Facebook from his time with the 25th Infantry Division Tropic Lightning. Facebook.com
Ernest Walker shared a photo on Facebook from his time with the 25th Infantry Division Tropic Lightning. Facebook.com

A man got a free Veterans Day meal at Texas Chili's. Then a manager took it away.

by: Julieta Chiquillo, The Dallas Morning News (Tribune News Service) | .
Stripes Korea | .
published: November 16, 2016

Update: Chili's removes manager who took away vet's meal

For his free meal on Veterans Day, Ernest Walker picked the Chili's Grill and Bar in Cedar Hill, located outside of Dallas, Texas. He sat at a table and ordered while his service dog Barack waited by his side.

Chili's has apologized for what happened next.

As Walker tells it, an elderly white man wearing a Donald Trump shirt approached him and said he served 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 that 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 cell phone 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. As Walker talks over the manager, he grabs Walker's food container.

"You have a great day," the manager says before walking away with the food.

"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 spokeswoman Whitney Strittmatter said in a prepared statement that the restaurant 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," she wrote. "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, who says he served in the 25th Infantry Division stationed in Hawaii, told KTVT-TV that he wants the manager reprimanded or fired.

"This overzealous manager comes out, and instead of talking to me man to man, he treated me as if I was a black man stealing a meal," Walker told the TV station. "Honestly, that's what it looked like."

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 with "no pets" policies are required to allow service animals.

Though service animals usually wear special tags or harnesses, 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. One is whether the dog is a service animal required because of a disability. The other is what work or task the dog has been trained to perform.

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