ELYRIA — A local man says he no longer will take his business to Dinner Bell after he said a staff member used a racial slur against him.
Aric Bowens, of Elyria, said he was with his wife and newborn child at the Lake Avenue eatery about noon Wednesday when the incident occurred. Bowens, who is black, said he visited the restaurant four times during the summer without incident. On Wednesday, they were trying to buy about $20 worth of food but found that their debit card wasn’t working and they had no cash with them.
Bowens said he tried to explain the problem to the owner, Martha Reynolds, who told them they could eat and then pay, but he said he insisted on bringing the food back to the counter to be held while they went to the bank. Bowens said he also offered to leave his license as insurance for not paying.
Reynolds on Thursday gave a slightly different version — saying the couple insisted the food be taken back to have it thrown away, not held.
Bowens said regardless of the confusion, the situation went south quickly.
A white man working at the establishment then came up to the counter to demand they pay immediately.
“Once he didn’t like the conversation with me, he cussed me out and it got racial,” he said.
Bowens said the man, who referred to himself as an owner, called him a racial slur and said that his “black (expletive) was not welcome at this establishment,” while he stuck his finger in Bowens’ face. Bowens said Reynolds did try to restrain the man and take him away from the situation.
In a brief phone interview, Reynolds said the demands of working in a restaurant are tough and stressful.
“We were busy and we are tired because I work about 12 hours a day and dealing with the public is kind of hard,” she said.
When asked if the man used that racial slur, she said, “Yes, a lot of people use it,” and the phone call ended.
The Reynolds family has owned the restaurant since 1986, according to the company’s Facebook page.
Afterward, Bowens said he calmly left the restaurant with his wife and child as he did not want to escalate the situation. Afterward, he shared his experience on his Facebook page. As of 6 p.m. Thursday, the post has received 134 reactions, 69 comments and 158 shares.
Bowens, the founder of Lorain County Ambassador Brothers, pleaded no contest to persistent disorderly conduct in connection with a 2017 incident at Firestone Tires at Midway Mall. The store’s manager had claimed Bowens slapped him in the face, knocking off his glasses.
Bowens said he’s thinking about contacting the Elyria chapter for the NAACP and other organizations to take possible nonviolent action against the restaurant.
“He could have cussed me out and left the racial stuff out and he wouldn’t hear from me again,” he said.
Elyria NAACP President Ardelia Tolbert declined to give a statement until she could personally hear both sides of the story.