A restaurant has been accused of racism after customers say staff called the cops on a black teen, who was celebrating with her family. After allegedly making a “very inappropriate” observation, the teen was reportedly asked to leave, but some are saying the accusations just don’t add up.
Sanai Butler, a 17-year-old high school student, was reportedly celebrating her completion of high school with tons of her family and friends at Lula Restaurant Distillery in New Orleans, Louisianna, when things took an unpleasant turn. In fact, the restaurant was accused of putting out “big racist energy” after the staff called the police on the teen’s group, Distractify reported.
“We saw two cop cars pull up with lights on and the officers came out & the owner of Lula came outside and was talking to the officer. One of the adults was talking to the other officer,” wrote Candice Wright, a vocal Black Lives Matter supporter based out of New Orleans who shared the alleged sequence of events from her perspective in a Twitter thread. “The rest of the family came out. They were videoing,” Wright added.
So, what was the issue? Allegedly, it was the teen’s outfit, seen above, which the restaurant owner had deemed inappropriate, according to Wright, who continued, “The owner of Lula called the cops on a teenager because she felt she wasn’t dressed appropriately. Now they had been in the restaurant for at least two hours before this happened. What was the issue?!?!?”
According to the girl’s family, Sanai had just completed her courses at Warren Easton Charter school and her large group had allegedly dropped close to $2,000 at the restaurant in celebration before her outfit became an issue. As the teen went to visit the bathroom, she reportedly encountered the restaurant owner’s wife, who approached the teen and told her that her outfit was “very inappropriate,” the girl’s mother said.
Sanai was allegedly asked if she had a shirt before being asked to leave because of her clothing, which consisted of a matching bikini top and pants. “You were here when we walked in,” recalled La Shawn Butler, Sanai’s mother, speaking of the restaurant staff while giving an interview to WDSU. “If there was anything wrong with what she had on, you should have said something at that time. Not after we had spent well over $2,000 at your establishment. This is when she called the police.”
Although another restaurant visitor also claimed to have seen the interactions between the restaurant staff and Sanai’s party, saying Lula Distillery was putting out “big racist energy” after they called the police on the teen’s group, there are those who say the allegations just don’t add up after several of Sanai’s friends and family members hopped on social media to express their disappointment over what occurred at Lula Distillery while praising Sanai’s “humble” and “shy” demeanor.
“Reservations were made by her Mom (my Sister) and Sanai walked into the establishment with the outfit in question on (we tried several other establishments that could NOT accommodate such a large party). No question, conversation or refusal from anyone!!” Tamika Butler-Boutte wrote in a Facebook post, giving a detailed breakdown of what she says occurred after her own daughter allegedly accompanied Shanai (her niece) to the restroom.
“It was not until after we ate, had celebratory shots with the entire restaurant, began paying our bills including blessing our wait staff and accepting words of encouragement from everyone there for the grad that a so call ‘Problem’ arose,” Tamika continued, but the restaurant is telling a much different story, MSN reported.
After receiving backlash over the racist allegations, Lula’s Distillery released a statement that said they didn’t call the police over Sanai’s clothing. In fact, the business insists not a single person was asked to leave the premises because of their clothes. Instead, Lula’s Distillery said, “The police were called after three disruptive, adult patrons engaged with another table of patrons, and one of the female owners of Lula. No person or group was escorted off of the property. There were no physical altercations.”
Although Lula Distillery maintained that the police were called to address an altercation between patrons and staff at the restaurant and that they were only notifying the authorities to ensure the “safety” of their customers, they did offer an apology to “all of our patrons who were dining with us at the time, our longtime customers, and particularly to any person who feels that Lula discriminated against them based on their attire or race.”
Police did confirm that they responded to a disturbance call at Lula Distillery, but they didn’t name any of the party members involved in the incident. The conflicting reports and other discrepancies have caused some social media users to call into question the legitimacy of the racism accusations. One such doubter pointed out that on Lula’s online dinner menu, “the average appetizer is $15 and the most expensive dinner is $25,” saying, “Sounds like the $2000 dinner is an exaggeration as is the version that police were called on her.”
Others were quick to point out that, even though many of the so-called witnesses reported that video footage was captured, there haven’t been any videos of the encounter shared online, according to Distractify. Regardless, Lula’s has vowed to do better. “We are working with our team, including management and ownership, to determine what should have been done differently and to ensure an enjoyable restaurant and dining environment for everyone,” the restaurant said. But, it might be too little too late.
“The Bagneris Firm is proud to represent Ms. Sanai Butler and her family in connection with the incident that occurred at Lula’s Restaurant,” Suzette Peychaud Bagneris with the Bagneris Law Firm posted on Facebook. “The worth of a woman is not determined by what she wears. It is wrong to use white privilege to weaponize the police against African Americans for a perceived dress code violation. This has been a traumatizing event for this family. We will demand justice.”
Is there a “double standard” when it comes to attire? Or would Sanai Butler’s party have had the same experience if they were white? Was this even about her clothes? If we assume it was, we still have to ask whether an establishment has the right to ask someone in a bikini top at a sit-down restaurant to cover up or leave. I believe that’s the business’s prerogative, regardless of the patron’s skin color. They should, however, address such issues when the customer enters, not when tabs are being settled. Again, however, this leaves us wondering whether this was really about the outfit or if the “celebratory shots with the entire restaurant” created a disruption, warranting a call to the police.