Updated: Women alleging racism at Detroit’s Punch Bowl Social speak out

Updated 9:55 p.m., Tuesday, Dec. 29:

Metro Times
reached out to the women behind a viral Facebook post alleging to be victims of a racist incident at Detroit’s Punch Bowl Social.

The women identified themselves as Shyra, 28, and Lauren, 27. Shyra says she was the one who the alleged racist remarks were directed toward, who repeated the story to Lauren, who posted the story to Facebook later that night without notifying her.

After reaching out to Punch Bowl Social’s management for comment (see below), we asked Shyra to explain her version of the events.

Shyra says she met up with a group of her friends at Punch Bowl Social. In all, there were nine or ten people in the group, all African-Americans. Shyra says her friends had been there for an hour and a half before she arrived. When she got there, her friends were trying to get service from a waitress. “So I tried to get the waitress's attention,” Shyra says. “She said she would be right with us.”

Another 20 minutes passed but Shyra's group had still not recieved service. That’s when Shyra says she saw the manager standing by the door and decided to ask him for service. “So I'm like, ‘Excuse me sir, I'm sitting right here at this table and we're trying to order food,’” Shyra says. She says the manager told her there were only two waitresses on staff, and advised them to order their drinks at the bar.

“I was like, ‘No, we have our drinks, we were just trying to get some food,’” Shyra says. According to Shyra, again, the manager told her there were only two waitresses on staff, and added “I don’t know what to tell you,” before walking away.

“And I’m like, ‘Excuse me sir, you don’t know what to tell me? Maybe you can put our order in, or get a waitress?’” Shyra says. “That just isn’t the right customer service.”

Shyra says she asked the manager what his name was as he was walking away from her. “I was like, ‘Sir, I'm talking to you. What is your name?’” she says. “I asked him how he spelled his name and he said he ‘didn’t know.’ The whole time I'm talking to the back of him, because every time he said something, he abruptly walked away.”

Shyra says she tapped him on the shoulder and he turned around and gave her a business card and told her that she and her friends should go somewhere else to eat. “I was like, ‘Wow, seriously?’” Shyra says. This is when Shyra says the manager said the alleged racist comment: “If I was your color, I would just leave.”

Angry, Shyra followed the manager into the employees only area of the bar. “I was like, ‘Excuse me, sir!’” she says. “He looked up and said, ‘You cannot be back here’ and he got on his microphone and called for security.”

Shyra returned to her group of friends and said they should all leave. “I was livid,” Shyra says. “My friends were like, ‘Let's finish our drinks.’ So I picked up my drink and we just started to walk downstairs. But security came out, and they said we all had to leave.”

We ask Shyra if there any possibility that she misheard the manager. “No, that is what he said to me,” she says. “And I said, ‘What did you just say to me?’ in disbelief. The whole time he's still walking away from me. So I started to walk back to where my friends are. My face was just completely blank — it was all over my face. My friends were like, ‘What's going on?’ I was like, ‘Dude is racist.’ And everybody was like, ‘Wait, what?’ Everyone was trying to ask security what happened, because I still hadn't explained what was going on yet. And security just said, ‘Everyone has to leave, because she wasn't supposed to be back there.’”

Shyra says she was finishing her drink as the group was heading out. “When I got down to the bottom of the steps, I was still having my drink, and I was like, ‘I don't even want it.’ So I slammed my drink on the bar,” she says. “And the bartender looked up and said, ‘That was uncalled for’ from behind the bar and I just kept on walking making a beeline for the door. I was pissed. As I was making my beeline to the door he jumps in my face.”

We ask Shyra again if she’s sure the manager said what she claims he said.

“Yes. Nothing else would have flared me up,” she says. “Not once did he say the kitchen was closed. He told me they didn't have enough waitresses, that I should eat somewhere else, and that if he was my color, he would just leave. Those were the things he said to me.”

We ask if the bar was packed. “There were a lot of people,” Shyra says.

We ask Shyra if there were other black people at Punch Bowl Social aside from her group of friends. “That’s funny because you’re not the only person to ask me that,” she says. “I don't remember. I live in an all white community, and I'll be the only black person and it will take one of my friends to make a joke about it before I even notice. I don't know. I didn't factor that in when I was in there. I didn't pay attention to any of that.”

We ask if Shyra felt unwelcome in any way at Punch Bowl Social before that incident. “No, not at all,” she says. “A friend bought my first drink for me, so I didn’t have any interaction with an employee until we asked the waitress to order food, and she said she was busy. I’ve worked in a restaurant before so I totally understand the place being busy, and that’s why we went up to the manager to ask if we could order food.”

We ask Shyra if it was her first time at Punch Bowl Social. She says it was. She was visiting with friends from college. She says she grew up in Detroit but left two years ago, and currently lives in Texas. She was visiting her hometown for the holidays.

We ask if Shyra feels like Detroit has changed in the two years that she’s been gone. “Yes, and no,” she says. “Can you clarify?”

We point out downtown’s redevelopment — that a place like Punch Bowl Social didn't exist two years ago. “Before, we used to have to go to Royal Oak or somewhere else to hang out,” she says. “But now downtown is more developed. There's more stuff to do down there.”

Shyra says she finds it strange that Punch Bowl Social never tried to contact her after Lauren posted about the incident on Facebook, though she admits that during the fuss she lost her cell phone in the bar. “I find it crazy that they said they would investigate this situation, but nobody really talked to me,” she says. “Punch Bowl never directly responded, or tried to contact me. They just said they investigated the situation and reviewed the video footage. I didn't say he physically assaulted me. It was verbal. Where's the audio? It's his word against mine.”

She says after Lauren’s post went viral she reactivated her Facebook profile so she could post her version of events. We ask how she expected Punch Bowl Social to contact her. Was she hoping they would reply to her Facebook post?

“We were kind of obsessed with this all day, going back in time, reading all of their reviews,” Shyra says. “We were factoring in all kinds of different things, like was I the first person who had any kind of racial experience there? Someone made a Facebook post, ‘The service sucked, blah blah blah.’ And [Punch Bowl] went right back to the person and replied. They responded with ‘Hey, sorry, tell us more about it, and tell us how we can resolve things.’ With us it was kind of strange that they were trying to shut down what we said happened and our experience. And this is a way deeper situation than the service just sucked, or the bartender made my drink wrong. So if [Punch Bowl Social] can investigate smaller things, why didn't they reach out?”

Shyra says she still thinks Punch Bowl Social is “a dope place.” “I only heard awesome things about Punch Bowl. I had no malice or anything against them,” she says. “I was having a really amazing time. I was excited about going, I was looking forward to it. I never heard anything bad about it. I had no reason to make up what he said. So I felt like they should have asked or further investigated instead of just accusing the story of being a lie.”

Another thing Shyra says she didn’t like about Punch Bowl Social’s official response was bringing up the fact that the manager was gay. “What does being gay have to do with it? Just because he's gay doesn't mean he can't make a racist comment,” she says. “They tried to put that on there to add some sensitivity to his character. It was completely unrelated.”

Shyra says she can understand the criticism of Lauren’s post going viral, who did not hear the alleged comments firsthand. “I don't even think she realized that it would get this amount of reaction. I didn't even have a phone, so I was like, ‘I'm OK, we'll talk about it tomorrow,’” Shyra says. “And Lauren went and made the Facebook post. It wasn't until late [Sunday] evening that I was at my grandma's house and my sister called me and asked if I talked to Lauren. I was like, ‘No I haven't talked to anybody, I don't have a phone.’ She was like, ‘That post went viral, and got reposted a couple hundred times. You should call her.’ I had no idea.”

We ask why Shyra didn't reach out first, since she had the manager’s business card. "I didn't feel like I had a reason to reach out to him. He said what he said to me. I don't even want to talk to him,” she says. “I wouldn't mind if the apology came on behalf of Punch Bowl as a corporation. I don't care. I don't even really have a desire to even talk to him, because I felt like he made clear how he feels about me and I wouldn't feel like it was genuine. They should at least offer some kind of apology. That's why I felt like I had to reactivate my Facebook page and say, ‘It happened to me.’”

Metro Times asked Shyra for the manager’s contact information from the business card. The manager did not return our phone call or email on Tuesday.

Originally posted 1:58 p.m. Monday, Dec. 28:

What happened at Punch Bowl Social late Saturday night and early Sunday morning? You may have seen this story in a post that made the rounds after appearing on Facebook at 3:43 a.m. Dec. 27. The post read:

I am very disturbed by my experience at the Punch Bowl Social tonight. I can't sleep. My cousin asked a bartender if she could still order food and or drinks (it was getting late), he looks at her and responds "I don't know...if I was your color I would just leave"...after a few back and forth exchanges she walks back over to the area we were sitting in, but not before asking to speak to a manager. Instead of a manager, bouncers show up and say we have to leave. We ask why, but are given no valid explanation. The bouncer says he's just doing his job, understood. We ask for management again, management never comes.

It is puzzling to me that instead of this blatant racism being addressed, we are treated and handled like unruly patrons.

As we are leaving my cousin slams her glass on the bar counter and heads to the door, before she can make it out the bartender from the previous altercation comes from behind the bar and aggressively runs up to my cousin, (mind you she is 5'4, 130 lbs) as if he's about to hit her...she throws her hands up and tries to hit him before he gets to close to her face, her friend pulls her out of the reach of the bartender. My cousin and her friend are forcefully pushed out of the bar. The police are called and I'm still just baffled that a perfectly good night turned into this, and at no point did management or anyone from Punch Bowl diffuse the situation, apologize or even acknowledge the conduct of the bartender.

I am sure my cousin could have handled the situation better but how do you handle overt racism better? This should NOT have happened, and I'm pissed—you should be too.

A spokesperson for the Detroit Police Department said no police report was filed, but that many downtown businesses use private security. And since Punch Bowl Social is a private business, they have a right to remove unruly patrons. “If they were asked to leave the location for being disorderly, Punch Bowl Social is a private business, and they have the right to remove people for any reason," the spokesperson said.

We finally heard from Robert Thompson, founder and CEO of Punch Bowl Social. This is what he told us:

To respond to your inquiry, at around 1:30 a.m. on the 26th, a guest spoke with one of our managers on the mezzanine level about her desire to order food. Our kitchens close at 1:00 a.m. and so we were not able to feed her at that time. She also wanted to order additional drinks but it was “last call” and she was directed to order at the bar. She was unhappy that she could not order food and that there wasn’t table service and so she spoke one-on-one with our manager, out of range of her friends, including the individual, her cousin, who wrote the recap of their experience and made the discrimination accusations against him. The manager is a married gay man who has been discriminated against in his life and is extremely attuned to the struggles of others. After reviewing video footage of the interaction from multiple angles and speaking extensively with the manager and our team, we do not believe that discrimination played any part in the interaction.

Discrimination, in any form, is not tolerated within our company. We realize that’s an easy statement to say, but that often it’s not supported behind the scenes. At Punch Bowl Social, we walk the walk. Our team, guests and community are a mix of cultures, ethnicities, orientations and beliefs that we celebrate and embrace.

Unrelated to the discrimination allegation, one of the bartenders on the main floor that night behaved in an unacceptable manner after the guest slammed her glass down on the bar. He came out from behind the bar, which is against our policy, and addressed the guest verbally as she was walking out. His actions were unnecessary, excessive (again, unrelated to the discrimination allegations that occurred upstairs) and in contrast to our service commitment and, as such, his employment with Punch Bowl Social has been terminated. We will not tolerate aggressive behavior by our team members or our guests at any time.

Detroit is our home, and we are grateful to be here. The ongoing revitalization of this city only works if we work together. We remain committed to the city and the people we serve.

So what exactly happened? Honestly, we still don't know, but it appears that the bartender has been let go, though not for the reasons put forward in the original post. 

Punch Bowl Social is no stranger to complaining guests. When they opened last year, a few kinks still needed to be worked out. The eatery responded with a customer appreciation day. So we can say that the Punch Bowl people have no problem admitting when they were in the wrong. That and their prompt response do go a long way toward earning trust you just can't get from a 4 a.m. post from somebody who got things second-hand and can't sleep.

But, for the record, we sent out an inquiry to the original complainant, but haven't heard back. We're still waiting, but, at least at this time, it seems to have been a tempest in a teapot.