The Crusader Newspaper Group


A morning at ALDI supermarket turned into a nightmare for Lem’s Barbeque Owner Carmen Lemons, who says a white manager forced her to pay for groceries in three separate transactions

By Erick Johnson

The weekend had come. On Friday, May 8, employees at Lem’s Barbeque were busy warming up the grill and preparing fresh meat, hours before opening the iconic eatery that has served Chicago for more than 65 years. Like many days during the coronavirus pandemic, employees prepared for a challenging business day, where the line for Lem’s juicy rib tips and hot links was expected to stretch around the building. Less than a mile away, something else was heating up at an ALDI supermarket.

That morning, owner Carmen Lemons decided to purchase $500 worth of groceries for those in need during the pandemic. She went to the ALDI Supermarket at 7345 South State. There, Lemons says her generous plans turned into a bad trip when a white manager forced her to pay for her entire order in three separate transactions at the checkout line.

More than a month after the alleged incident, the pain remains fresh for Lemons who said the practice felt discriminatory and demeaning. She reported the alleged incident to ALDI’s corporate office, but Lemons said the supermarket has been silent after making a promise to address the situation.

“I just couldn’t believe what I was experiencing,” Lemons said. “It was shocking and demeaning.”

Lemons said when she entered the ALDI supermarket, she told a cashier of her plans to purchase $500 worth groceries for a special food giveaway. Lemons said the cashier went to the back of the store to get David, a manager at ALDI whose last name Lemons declined to give. From a distance, David watched as the cashier checked out Lemons.

“When the order got to $274.08, he [David] said stop right there. I want you to pay right now. Then I said I wanted to go all the way up to $500. He said, “no, I want you to pay right now,” Lemons recalled.

Lemons said she paid the amount. When the second part of the order got to $280.34, Lemons said the manager told the cashier to stop again and demanded that Lemon pay the balance.

Lemons said when she tried to pay for the second transaction totaling $280.34, her credit card that she used for the first transaction was declined. Her credit card company as a routine practice places a hold on the card whenever there are multiple transactions with large amounts made at the same business. Lemons used another credit card to pay for the second, and the third transaction, which was $27.74.

To support her claim, Lemons took a photo of three separate receipts and texted it to a Crusader reporter. The first transaction of $274.08 occurred at 9:38 a.m. The second transaction of $280.34 was completed at 9:47a.m. The last transaction of $27.74 was completed at 9:50 a.m. The receipts show that various items were purchased, including eggs, milk, soup and many bags of chocolate-covered almonds.

RECEIPTS SHOWED THAT Lem’s Barbeque owner Carmen Lemons paid for her $500 grocery bill in three separate transactions. (Photo provided by Carmen Lemons)

A vocal and tough businesswoman, Lemons said it was difficult for her to not express her anger at the manager as he allegedly forced her to pay for her groceries in three separate transactions.

“I had to use a lot of restraint,” Lemons told the Crusader. “For him, it was about control. He wanted to make sure things were done his way to show that he was superior and had more power than me.”

Lemons said the same day, she reported the alleged incident to ALDI’s corporate office. She said an official there told her that “something will be done about it” and gave her a case number. One month after reporting the incident, Lemons said she never heard back from ALDI’s. She has not visited the Aldi’s supermarket where the alleged incident happened, and she is struggling to move past the incident.

Seeking answers for this story, the Crusader left a message and sent five emails to ALDI’s corporate office. None were returned as of Wednesday for the Crusader’s print edition.

Founded in 1961 in Germany, ALDI is one of the largest supermarket discount chains in the country, with more than 1,900 stores in 36 states, according to company’s website. ALDI is very popular among stores in Chicago’s Black neighborhoods, where shoppers find lower prices than in most supermarkets.

Lemons and Lynn Walker fully took over the family business when their father, James B. Lemons died in 2015.

Lemons said she occasionally shops at ALDI’s but has not been back to the 73rd and State location where the alleged incident occurred.

Lemons said she still shops at Aldi at other locations.

“Here I was, a Black businesswoman giving Aldi my business while doing something good for the community when this manager dishonors me,” Lemons said.

“There was no reason for him to treat me like that.”

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