PILSEN — A customer at a Pilsen restaurant wants three employees fired after he said they insinuated he and his fellow diners could not afford their bill or expensive drinks because they are people of color — but the owner and staff say race had nothing to do with the conflict.
Orlando Campos, who lives on the Southeast Side, ate Sunday night at SKY, 1239 W. 18th St., with a group of predominately Black and Brown friends. When he ordered his third drink — an expensive Scotch — the waiter took his order but came back and asked if Campos could afford it, he said. Campos said he was confused and insulted by the question.
When manager Luis Millan and Jelena Prodan, sommelier and general manager, tried to defuse the situation, Campos felt they implied the restaurant’s target clientele did not include minorities, he said.
“What else could it have been?” Campos said. “This doesn’t just come out of nowhere.”
Tylor Dunnican, who is Campos’ boyfriend and was at the meal, said it was an unprofessional interaction. The group felt the restaurant’s staff was questioning whether their party could afford their bill based on their race, Dunnican said.
“This was a table full of queer people of color,” Dunnican said. “It was unbelievable. … I am still in shock.”
Anti-gentrification and community groups fought the restaurant’s opening in 2017, saying the eatery would contribute to rising rent and long-time residents being pushed out of the neighborhood. Some questioned why an upscale restaurant would open in a working-class neighborhood.
Supporters of Campos, Pilsen and community members re-shared his account of the incident, circulating his post widely on social media this week. Some vowed to boycott the business. Campos said he wants the server, Millan and Prodan fired.
Millan and Prodan said no part of the interaction with Campos and his group was racially motivated and the restaurant welcomes all diners. Stephen Gillanders, SKY owner and chef, said his restaurant is supported by a diverse staff, many of whom live in the neighborhood.
Gillanders said he knows it can be sensitive to broach the price of something with a diner, but he feels it’s an important part of customer service.
“Whether it’s happening initially or later, it’s always a slippery slope in terms of how you tell somebody that. But ultimately we feel it’s important to not surprise them at the end of the bill with this $56 drink that you might have not known you’re committed to,” Gillanders said.
Campos confirmed his menu didn’t list a price for the drink. But the price of the drink should not have mattered compared to everything else the group was ordering, he said.
“There was never any insinuation of a problem with prices,” Campos said.
Millan, who said he is Latino and gay, said the situation was unfortunate but had nothing to do with ethnicity or sexuality.
“If the customer says they’re offended, they’re offended and you cannot take that away from them,” Millan said. “But it had nothing to do with what they looked like.”
Gillanders said the restaurant is going to compile a spirit list menu that includes the prices of drinks to avoid this situation repeating. He also said he’s organizing with a cultural sensitivity consultant to arrange training for the staff, but he does not plan to fire any of the employees involved.
“We’re imperfect, and we strive to be better,” Gillanders said. “We don’t want anyone to come in and not have an amazing time and love their experience. … We have to figure out ways to prevent any one from ever having a bad experience ever.”
Campos said he doesn’t think the changes Gillanders is making with the spirit list or the training is enough to rectify the situation.
“That’s just all talk. I care about action,” he said.