Rev. Jackson threatens national boycott of Buffalo Wild Wings

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TAVIS GRANT, NATIONAL FIELD DIRECTOR FOR RAINBOW PUSH and Reverend Jesse Jackson, speaks to the families who were asked to move to another table at Buffalo Wild Wings after a racist customer said he didn’t like sitting next to Black people. (Photo by Chinta Strausberg)

Crusader Staff Report

Reverend Jesse Jackson Sr. has threatened to lead a national boycott of Buffalo Wild Wings if the company fails to meet several demands made Tuesday, November 11 during a press conference at the Rainbow PUSH Coalition.

Jackson called on Buffalo Wild Wings and its parent company Inspire Brands to boost Blacks in its executive ranks and increase the number of franchises owned by people of color. Jackson said he will lead a national boycott of Buffalo Wild Wings if those demands aren’t met.

The demands came two weeks after employees at a Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant in Naperville on October 26, asked several Black families with children to move to another table when a customer said he doesn’t like sitting next to Black people.

The group of 18 Blacks was holding a birthday party for one of the children after returning from a youth basketball game.

One manager who was fired, told the group that the tables were reserved, but one reporter was told Buffalo Wild Wings didn’t take reservations. A host, who was Black, alerted the families that they were near a regular customer who “doesn’t want Black people sitting next to him.”

Instead of moving to another table, the group left the restaurant and dined at a Hooters restaurant.

The incident made national headlines and drew widespread condemnation after several families told their story on social media. Buffalo Wild Wings fired two managers and apologized for the incident.

Naperville Village Councilman Benny White, the only Black official on the council, spoke out against the incident and has held several discussions on race and diversity with a community group. Buffalo Wild Wings employees at restaurants in Naperville and Aurora are undergoing diversity training.

Jackson wants Buffalo Wild Wings to do more. At Tuesday’s press conference, Jackson was joined by Mary and Justin Vahl, Marcus Riley and numerous children of the family members who experienced alleged discrimination at the Buffalo Wild Wings.

Jackson said he and the families will meet on Monday, November 18 with Buffalo Wild Wings President Lyle Tick to discuss policies that will promote diversity and inclusion at Buffalo Wild Wings and parent company Inspire Brands, which was formed in 2017 after Buffalo Wild Wings and the Arby’s Restaurant Group merged in 2017.

Buffalo Wild Wings confirmed that the meeting would take place.

Jackson said the restaurant staff’s action was an indication of a systemic problem lacking diversity and inclusion. He wrote a letter to both Buffalo Wild Wings and Inspire Brands Inc. stating, “It is critical for us to understand the current state of racial diversity at Inspire Brands, Inc. and its affiliate brands. This would include diversity on the board of directors, in the C-suite—vertical and horizontal employment numbers and procurement spent in both goods.”

On Tuesday, Tick released a statement in response to Jackson’s demands.

“Our actions to date reflect our deep commitment to our core value of community, to diversity and inclusion, and our promise to use this moment to emerge with an even more positive presence in the communities that Buffalo Wild Wings serves,” Tick said.

Founded in Columbus, Ohio, Buffalo Wild Wings has more than 1,200 restaurants in 10 countries, including the U. S., but very few are located in or near predominately Black neighborhoods.

In addition to Arby’s, parent company Inspire Brands acquired Sonic Burgers in 2018 and acquired the popular sandwich chain Jimmy Johns this year. Inspire Brands’ headquarters is based in Atlanta. Buffalo Wild Wings, once a publicly-traded company before it was acquired by Inspire Brands, is headquartered in Minneapolis.

Inspire Brands is owned by the Roark Capital Group, a $13 billion private equity firm in Atlanta.

According to a 2016 annual report filed with the Securities Exchange Commission, Buffalo Wild Wings’ restaurants generated nearly $1.9 billion in sales in 2019, higher than the previous two years. The report said there were 47 Buffalo Wild Wings franchises that year as opposed to 24 that were company-owned. Buffalo Wild Wings 2016 annual report also said that “Unfavorable publicity could harm our business.”

The Crusader reviewed Inspire Brands’ executive ranks and found no Blacks among its top brass. Out of six members on the Inspire Brands’ Board of Directors, none were Black.

Kim Metcalf, Buffalo Wild Wings spokesperson, said in one news report that 22 percent of the franchise restaurants are minority owned and one of the three top executives is a Black man, but no name was given.

The Crusader learned Buffalo Wild Wings employs Seth Freeman, a Black Chief Marketing Officer and Howard University alumnus who once worked in the same capacity for Coca Cola and General Electric.

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