A shaky video opens on the counter at the Grand Avenue Chipotle in St. Paul, washed-out light beaming down on beans, chicken, and a manager telling some customers they have to show her some money if they want food.
“You’ve got to pay, because you never have money when you come in here,” she says.
“We never have money,” the young man repeated, loudly and slowly. For a while, it dissolves into incomprehensible yelling and a little laughter.
“Can we just get our food, bro?”
“Apparently, we ain’t got no money.”
“You know me, I pay you every freaking day.”
“This is some crazy stuff.”
A worker at the counter stands around looking a little confused, conferring quietly with the manager, before awkwardly averting his eyes and busying himself wiping off the counter.
“So, are we going to get served, or not?”
“Yo, put this on Twitter.”
They did. Twitter user Masud Ali posted a two-and-a-half-minute video of the above exchange, plus a moment of altercation when a white customer walked by and began to fill up a to-go cup at the soda fountain, allegedly after having not been asked to pay before their meal was in hand.
“So when a WHITE woman walks in you change your policy of ‘show us income before you get served’?????” Ali tweeted. “Can a group of young well established African American [sic] get a bite to eat after a long workout session…??”
It didn’t take long for Chipotle to take notice. On Saturday, the day after the video was posted, the company’s Twitter account responded to the video.
“This is not how we treat our customers,” it said. “We’re committed to treating everyone equally and with respect. The manager has been terminated and we are re-training everyone at the restaurant to ensure something like this doesn’t happen again.”
But that wasn’t the last word on the issue. Soon after Chipotle put its foot down, just as quickly as the initial backlash began, other Twitter users began to pipe up, saying the manager may have been right to be suspicious. They posted screenshots of other tweets from Ali, some of them from three years ago, talking about dining and dashing.
“Aye man I think chipotle catching up to us fam,” one read. “Should we change locations”
“Yall talking about a dine and dash what yall on,” one Twitter user responded.
“...Not a dine and dash we’re just borrowing the food for a couple hours that’s all,” Ali responded.
The Tweets have since vanished.
Just like that, public opinion boomeranged. A Gofundme.com page was set up in the manager’s name, saying she didn’t deserve to be fired, and asking for money to get her through the holidays. Then a Change.org petition was circulated, garnering more than 1,000 signatures, for her to get her job back.
On Sunday, Chipotle sent out a statement with a more contrite tone, saying the company had acted based on information that was “known” to them “immediately after the incident,” and that the matter needed further investigation. “If the facts warrant it,” the statement said, the manager, referred to only as “Dominique,” would, of course, be re-hired.
As of Monday, the facts seemed to be in Dominique’s favor. Chipotle sent out a statement saying the St. Paul manager had been offered her job back.
“While our normal protocol was not followed serving these customers, we publicly apologize to our manager for being put in this position,” the company told the Pioneer Press. “We are committed to doing the right thing and acting in a manner consistent with a thoughtful, fact-driven approach.”
The manager herself didn’t have anything to tell the Press except to talk to her attorney.
All of this took place over the course of a weekend and change, with lives and reputations toppled, rebuilt, reassembled, and rearranged within the 280-or-fewer characters written by countless bystanders. Ali’s twitter feed is still filled with the warm words of well-wishers, outraged at the gall of the manager for throwing them out.
This story, like many these days, all depends on who gets the last word.