Birmingham restaurant faces online backlash after alleged discrimination

Local News

Aireal Bonner says she was discriminated against by Southern Kitchen & Bar in Birmingham. (Photo courtesy of Aireal Bonner)

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — A Birmingham restaurant is facing mounting outrage on social media after a woman accused the establishment of discrimination. 

Southern Kitchen & Bar, located on Richard Arrington Jr. Boulevard, has received dozens of one-star reviews on Yelp, Facebook, Google, and other platforms following an incident that occurred there Friday.

Aireal Bonner claimed she was discriminated against by Southern Kitchen & Bar after a manager and the bar’s owner asked her to put a shirt over her small, knitted top. The restaurant does not have a dress code listed on its website, and before its deletion, the establishment’s Facebook account included photographs of white women dressed in a fashion similar to Bonner’s at the time of the incident.

This photo shows the attire Bonner was wearing when she was asked to cover up in Southern Kitchen & Bar. (Photo courtesy of Aireal Bonner)

Bonner recounted her experience on social media in a post that has been shared nearly 1,000 times. 

“I walked through the door, spoke to the host, sat at the bar, had time to ask questions about the menu and order food and a drink,” Bonner said. “Not soon after my food order was placed, I was approached by the ‘manager’… about my attire. I was initially told that the owner of the restaurant, Stephen, had called her from his home (he wasn’t even in the restaurant initially) because he had seen me on camera in the restaurant and asked her to come and harass me about the way I was dressed. She approached me initially asking if I had another shirt that I could put on. I told her no I did not as I was already wearing a shirt.”

In a video attached to her post, an employee can be seen and heard offering Bonner a shirt to place over her top. When Bonner refused, the employee said she would “call Birmingham PD” if Bonner didn’t comply with her request. 

The restaurant’s general manager, Stephen Goode, eventually arrived and intervened.

“The second this man came in,” Bonner continued in her post, “he immediately began to handle the situation aggressively. Telling me that if I wanted to continue to dine there (after being harassed and embarrassed by a nonexistent dress code) that I would have to put a shirt…or get my food to go and leave, loudly in front of a restaurant full of people. I chose not to dine there, and made the decision to leave…”

Since the incident, dozens have posted their commentary of the events on social media. The video of the incident has garnered nearly 200,000 views on Facebook alone.

Alabama Rally Against Injustice released a statement about the situation on Sunday.

“On August 6, 2021 around 1:00 p.m. the manager on duty harassed an African-American customer,” the statement said.

The organization has called for Goode and the employee who first asked Bonner to cover up to be fired. They have also asked that the restaurant’s dress code be posted in person or online and that a private and public apology be made to Bonner.

People of color across the country have outlined similar “dining while black” experiences at various restaurants across the country, with some even calling for the abolition of dress codes that could potentially be applied differently to minority customers.

Another, unaffiliated restaurant in Jacksonville, Florida, has made an effort to distance itself from the incident.

“It has been brought to our attention that several individuals have confused our restaurant with another restaurant/chain in Birmingham, Alabama with a similar name (and are posting negative reviews),” the establishment posted on Facebook. “We are not affiliated with any other restaurant or chain, and are a single-owner business in Jacksonville Beach, Florida. Additionally, everyone is and always will be welcome at our establishment. As a small business, we hope to have the community’s continued support despite this confusion.”

After this article’s publication, a public relations firm released a statement from Southern Kitchen & Bar. That statement can be read in full in this article, which is an update to the above story.

A protest at the restaurant originally scheduled for Aug. 11 has been delayed due to weather and will now take place Aug. 14 at 11:00.

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