A Taco Bell is under fire for allegedly kicking out a woman who wanted to buy food for a group of homeless people.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Shannon Gridley seems like a compassionate lady.
When she tried to buy a group of nearly 20 homeless people dinner at a local Taco Bell on Tuesday night, the manager ordered the bathrooms remain locked, the lobby closed, and kicked out Gridley and all the people she was trying to help.
When the manager was asked what happened, she said she wasn’t allowed to comment.
As a reporter walked to the door, the manager lectured her employees, telling them that’s how they should respond if the media started asking questions.
But one employee did talk, confirming key parts of Gridley’s story and adding some context about other ways the store’s managers treat the homeless and advocates who try to help them.
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The franchisee that owns the restaurant is investigating what happened and is ordering its employees retrained, according to Taco Bell’s corporate public relations office in Irvine, California.
Here’s what happened.
On Tuesday night, after leaving the library at Jefferson Community and Technical College, Gridley headed to the nearby restaurant to grab a late dinner around 7:30 p.m.
Inspired by a biography of Eddie Murphy, who was known to take drifters and prostitutes out to dinner when he was a young comedian on the stand-up circuit in Los Angeles, Gridley invited three homeless people she saw on the street to join her.
Then she saw three more people on a street corner “flying signs” asking for money, and she invited them. And as she walked under the viaduct, she saw about a half-dozen more people just hanging out, some of them asleep.
She collected them all.
Then, as they were about to go inside the restaurant, one of the men saw a buddy who was standing at a bus stop with about five other people.
“Invite them all,” Gridley told the man.
As much as it was a gift to people who badly needed it, it was more a sign of respect.
These are the people who most prefer not to acknowledge. They stare through them at intersections or avert their eyes as they walk down the street.
“The managers call them ‘those people,'” said the Taco Bell employee, who didn’t want their name used.
By the time “those people” came to Taco Bell on Tuesday night, there were about 20 of them ranging in age from their mid-teens to mid-60s, said Gridley, a 44-year-old empty-nester from Louisville who is studying to be a nurse.
But as soon as they approached, trouble began.
First, a security guard began questioning one of the men in the group. When she saw what was going on, Gridley said she approached the guard and explained.
“I held up my credit card and said, ‘All these people are going to order everything they want, and I’m paying for it,'” she said.
The employee working the cash register immediately turned and told a co-worker, “This is all going to be to go. Bag it all to go,” Gridley said.
One young woman who Gridley said appeared to be about 16 years old, tried to use the restroom, which was locked. An employee told the group it had been cleaned – about an hour and a half before closing time – and the workers weren’t about to clean it again.
Gridley protested. She told the Taco Bell employee that she and her new friends were going to eat in the restaurant. And she said some of them needed to use the restroom.
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After the first part of the group ordered, the employees wouldn’t allow them to take their food before it was paid for.
So, Gridley put $77.05 on the plastic and her new friends took their food and sat down at tables.
Then, the next group ordered: $11.64 more. And then, another group: $11.12.
One nicely dressed man came in and saw what Gridley was doing and gave her $10 to help, she said.
About that time, a worker came out and announced that the dining room was closed – even though a few of the homeless men hadn’t ordered. Neither had the nicely dressed man who donated to the cause.
That was about 7:45 p.m. The restaurant’s lobby closes at 9.
When the nicely dressed man objected, Gridley said the woman at the register offered to take his order. “I said, ‘Stop. Nobody’s ordering anything until they do.'”
That’s when everyone was kicked out, Gridley said.
The employee who spoke with a reporter confirmed key parts of Gridley’s story – the only place their stories diverged is that the employee thought it happened about a half-hour later than Gridley recalled.
The employee said the managers have threatened to have homeless advocates with cars towed when they have parked in the nearly empty parking lot to deliver food and water to homeless people who live nearby.
Employees are under strict orders not to allow homeless people to come into the store to use the restrooms, the employee said.
Taco Bell said the company understands that homelessness is an “unfortunate issue” and that the “franchisee looks forward to connecting with local organizations to see how they can help and work better together in the future.”
Follow Joseph Gerth on Twitter: @Joe_Gerth
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