Restaurant operator Brinker International Inc. is mired in its second controversy in recent days after a Maggiano's Little Italy location was used for a meeting of the so-called alt-right movement. The story comes one week after an Army veteran was questioned about whether he truly served his country as he tried to get a Veteran's Day meal at Brinker's Chili's chain.
As news outlets including The Daily News and The Hill reported, a group called the National Policy Institute gathered Friday night at a Maggiano's restaurant during its weekend gathering in Washington, D.C.
Tila Tequila, a former reality TV star, was among the attendees, according to a Twitter account attributed to her. She can be seen in a photo posted by @AngelTilaLove with two others doing a Nazi-style salute with the caption "Seig heil!" and a hand emoji. The phrase and hand gesture were used by the Nazis.
Seig heil! ✋ pic.twitter.com/FhuFuZq6Sc— Tila Tequila (@AngelTilaLove) November 19, 2016
The restaurant chain said it didn't know what the group was up to when it booked. "On Friday night, Maggiano's in Friendship Heights was the inadvertent site of a protest that caused us to close our restaurant to protect the safety of our Teammates and Guests," Maggiano's Little Italy President Steve Provost said in a statement. "The protesters were upset because of a banquet we were hosting for a group called the National Policy Institute (NPI). This was a last-minute booking made Friday afternoon, and the reservation was made under a different name, therefore we were not aware that NPI was dining with us or what the group represents."
Without referring to Tila Tequila by name, Mr. Provost went on to discuss her post.
"After the event, a guest sent a tweet in which she made a 'Sieg Heil salute' in support of Hitler and white supremacy. This expression of support of Hitler is extremely offensive to us, as our restaurant is home to Teammates and Guests of every race, religion and cultural background," he said in the statement. "We want to sincerely apologize to the community of Friendship Heights for inadvertently hosting this meeting, which resulted in hateful sentiment. We want you to know that at the suggestion of one of our guests, we are donating the profits from our restaurant sales on Friday, $10,000, to the DC office of the Anti-Defamation League, which for decades has been working to bring people together in peace and understanding."
Maggiano's, which has about 51 locations in 22 U.S. states and Washington, D.C., has been racking up negative comments on Facebook and elsewhere since news of the incident spread.
The issue is the latest reputational blow to Brinker. On Nov. 11, as outlets including the Dallas Morning News previously reported, a manager at a Chili's Grill & Bar location asked to see an ID from customer Ernest Walker in order to determine whether he should receive the free meal the chain gives to veterans and active military in honor of Veteran's Day. The issue was raised after another customer allegedly questioned the veteran's military service.
"We took swift action and immediately removed our manager from the restaurant. We are now in the process of working with Mr. Walker on a resolution that promotes trust and healing," Chili's President Kelli Valade said in a statement posted by Brinker on Nov. 14. "We are committed to making this right because this is not representative of what Chili's stands for, where every day, in every restaurant, we connect, serve and give to create the best life. On behalf of our Team Members, I want to thank you for listening, acknowledging our apology and we look forward to making you feel special in our restaurants."