Alero Restaurant on U Street NW
Alero Restaurant on U Street NW Credit: Laura Hayes

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A patron is accusing the U Street NW location of Alero Restaurant of racially profiling her group on Saturday night. It’s not the first time the restaurant has been called out for singling out African American customers.

In August, City Paper detailed another accusation.Tiffany Aziz, who is African American, described a meal where a server treated her differently than a white male who was seated nearby. The server asked her to provide a photo ID and credit card that the restaurant held until her bill was paid in full at the end of the meal. The white male was not required to provide either.

Victor Martinez,the owner of two locations of Alero, was apologetic at the time. He says the August incident was due to a confusing ID policy and a misunderstanding by the server. He suspended the server for a couple of days and he pledged to make policy changes to avoid any future problems with the African American community.

But this past Saturday, the restaurant called the police on a table of four African American women enjoying a late night meal.

Taylor Simonsand three of her friends were seated at Alero around 10:30 pm. She says they enjoyed a pleasant and uneventful meal until the check arrived. The server approached the table and the diners requested to split the check four ways. The server explained that she could not produce four individual checks, but she could accept four credit cards.

Simons says she used to work as a server and understands that establishments often have different policies when it comes to splitting checks, and that servers have to follow company protocols. Her party decided that Simons would pay for the full meal and her friends would use CashApp (similar to Venmo) to reimburse her for their portions of the dinner.

While they were waiting for the various payments to go through, Simons says the server stood right next to the table, becoming more impatient and irritated. After a few minutes, two members of Simons’ parties went to the restroom while the other two remained at the table. Simons believes that’s when Alero employees became suspicious that her group was attempting to walk out without paying.

Simons says one of the managers stopped her friends when they were returning from the restroom and then security employees followed them back to the table. The manager came over said, “You all need to pay now and leave,” according to Simons, who says she attempted to explain how they were sorting out the bill on CashApp. 

She was surprised by what she says happened next. “I see the police walking in,” Simons says. “I’m in complete shock because we literally didn’t do anything.” 

The police were nice and said they get quite a few calls from Alero, according to Simons. MPD doesn’t have a police report from Dec. 7 at Alero’s address. City Paper has submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to discern how often the police respond to calls from Alero. 

“Walk-outs” are a perpetual problem, according to Martinez, who showed City Paper several videos of alleged “walk-outs” in progress. Some patrons on camera were being physically combative when caught leaving without paying. One of the videos showed a manager, Robert Huanay, being violently assaulted by a female customer (not from the Simons’ party). In the video, Huanay does not retaliate.

Martinez showed City Paper a video he says was Simons’ party. It doesn’t show anything conclusive, other than the police did come to the restaurant. 

The owner wasn’t there Saturday night, but he says a common tactic is for people to come in groups and then a few members will eat and then sneak out early. When they try to get the other customers to pay for the entire bill they’ll refuse, saying they’re not financially responsible for the people who left early.   

Huanay was the manager-on-duty Saturday night and he says Simons’ party made multiple complaints throughout the evening and the only reason the police were called was because one of the women refused to pay. Huanay says 40 minutes elapsed between when the server originally gave them the check and the police arrived. 

Simons denies that they were complaining frequently and says the only gripe they had was with an order their server placed incorrectly. Martinez says he is frustrated that relatively minor disagreements like this are blown out of proportion and quickly go viral on social media described as racism. He remains baffled by the repeated claims of racism involving his restaurant. He notes, as he did in August, that most of his employees are minorities and his assistant manager is a black woman.

Simons wrote a review of the restaurant and tweeted it. 

I normally don’t do reviews but I was racially profiled last night. This was at Alero Restaurant on U Street!

— Taylor ? (@ItMustBeTee_) December 8, 2019

Aziz, the woman from the August incident, isn’t surprised that problems have persisted at Alero. She says she’s hired an attorney to negotiate a financial settlement for her treatment at the restaurant. Her attorney has spoken with representatives from Alero, but so far has been unsuccessful in resolving the dispute. Aziz says she plans to file a lawsuit in the near future.