Domino’s hosts neighborhood party after racial profiling accusation

Posted

FOLEY – Last weekend at the Beulah Heights neighborhood park, children played with beach balls. They dangled triangular slices of pizza above their mouths and giggled as the cheese slid down onto their noses.

It was a fun, typical neighborhood party in a typical neighborhood park.

The reason for the celebration, attendees said, has also grown all too typical across the United States.

Residents here say the assistant manager of a local Domino’s Pizza racially profiled the neighborhood when she refused to send a delivery driver there after nightfall.

On June 30 Beulah Heights resident Debbie Smith logged on to the Domino’s Pizza website to place an order. When the website showed an error, Smith called the store in Foley. An employee there told her the shop wouldn’t deliver “to that neighborhood after a certain time.” Smith asked to speak to a manager and the manager, Smith said, claimed there had been a kidnapping and that Domino’s deemed the area unsafe.

The pair exchanged words. And then Smith said the Domino’s manager hung up the phone.

Smith said she was stunned. She drove to the store to speak with the manager and videotaped their encounter.

When Smith entered the store, she said, “Which one of you beautiful people is the manager?”

The manager came to the front counter but as soon as Smith asked for an explanation, the manager walked away and refused to speak with her. Smith did ask for her name and the manager spelled it as she walked away.

After Smith posted the encounter online, the manager called the police.

A patrol car stopped Smith as she drove home.

Chief Thurston Bullock, Foley deputy chief of police, said in an email, “We did receive a call of a disturbance at Domino’s and responded. Mrs. Smith had already left but was stopped as part of the investigation and to be identified and to obtain her side of the story. Our investigation found this was a civil issue between the two parties.”

The Beulah Heights neighborhood, located just 1.2 miles from the Domino’s, is not one of the new, sparkling housing expanses that investors are raising at record pace across the county. Instead this is a six to eight city block area of simple, one-story brick houses. Time has settled upon their trusses and weathered some of those once brightly painted shutters.

Southside Baptist Church Cemetery sits around the corner. Nearly every grave is decorated with brightly colored flowers.

The cars in the driveways are not new. The lawns are mowed but not sculpted. And the residents are predominantly African-American.

“Geographical profiling is a thing. Yes, there was a carjacking in this neighborhood. It was horrible it occurred. But it was an isolated incident,” Smith said, who lives there with her husband, a Foley Police officer. “This isn’t some drive by area, this isn’t a thug area, this is the center of Foley.”

The next day, Smith said the pizza chain’s regional manager was on the phone, with an apology. Smith said she told him, “You need to do better.”

Gulf Coast Media reached out to that regional manager, Greg Schiek, who declined to comment on the incident. Gulf Coast Media also left messages for the franchise owner. He did not respond.

Saturday’s neighborhood pizza party, Smith said, was part of the manager’s promise to do better.

During a conversation Smith said she had with the regional manager, he promised the store would include more diversity and inclusion training for their employees.

Smith said she never considered requesting monetary compensation for the slight.

“I want our community to be treated better, to be respected. This was a slap in the face to our community,” she said.

Smith also asked for the manager who hung up on her and refused service to her neighborhood to be transferred. Schiek told Gulf Coast Media that request was honored.

“I'm happy that Greg took the time to listen and take action in representation of Domino's. I only wish that the owner would have shown up or responded. At the end of the day, each restaurant is owned by an individual. His silence doesn't send the right message to the heart of this community. Others have taken note of that,” Smith said.

At Saturday’s picnic Domino’s served over 40 pizzas to community members. The Foley Police also donated three coolers of water.

“We are here to support our community,” Schiek said. “If we could do this more we would love to.”

Community members said the pizza party was “a nice gesture” but added that many area restaurants regularly refuse delivery service to the area.

“This is a start. Don’t let reputation of a neighborhood mess up your customer service,” said resident Demetrius Walker.

Smith added, “this event was a great start, but there is much more work to be done in bridging the gap between communities and the businesses who thrive because of the people in those communities. I shop locally. I support locally, first and foremost. Situations like this are what deter members of the community from taking pride in their city. Foley deserves better. Beulah Heights deserves better. This is only the beginning.”

Stay in the know on the Alabama Gulf Coast. Sign up for our free email newsletter.

* indicates required