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Tiffany Aziz and her daughter Parahdyce Aziz were being seated at Alero Restaurant, a Mexican eatery on U Street NW, when the server made a peculiar request. Aziz and her daughter, who are both African American, were asked to provide a photo ID that would be held by the restaurant until their meal ended and their bill was paid in full. Aziz was suspicious but she complied after the server assured her the policy was “for everyone.”
A few minutes later, a young white man walked in and was seated at the next table, according to Aziz. He was able to order without being asked to provide any identification and the so-called policy was not mentioned. Aziz was offended and asked to speak to the manager. The manager, Roberto, repeated that the policy was for all customers. Aziz mentioned the white man seated next to her was served without providing any ID. Roberto said he would “check on it,” but “disappeared and never checked on it at all,” according to Aziz.
Aziz wrote a detailed Facebook post on Saturday (embedded below) describing the way she was treated and numerous African Americans shared similar experiences at Alero. Shay Etheridge said she visited Alero and was also asked to provide an identification card. “I hadn’t even ordered anything yet,” she says. “I was waiting to be seated. They said my ID was held because it was nighttime.”
Several Yelp and TripAdvisor reviews from African American diners in April, May, and July of this year also complained about the ID policy. Many of them mentioned concerns about the possibility of identity theft.
Victor Martinez, the owner of Alero locations on U Street NW and Connecticut Avenue NW, says the policy was for staff to hold IDs of customers in certain parts of the establishment such as the patio and lounge areas because of the high number of “walk-outs,” or patrons leaving without paying their bill. He admits the policy was confusing for both customers and employees and says the incident with Aziz happened because her party and the next table over had different servers. Because the white diner’s server did not follow instructions, she was suspended for two days without pay for her mistake, according to Aziz.
As a result of Aziz’s Facebook post going viral, Martinez says the restaurant has been inundated with phone calls, some of which have included death threats. A few of his employees were even afraid to come to work.
Martinez cancelled the old policy and instituted a new policy on Sunday. The restaurant will no longer hold IDs. Instead, they will ask every customer seated in the patio and lounge areas at all times and in the dining room after 10 p.m. for a credit card. IDs will still be required to verify the credit card belongs to the person who presents it, but the IDs will be returned immediately. To ensure the new regulations are in compliance with D.C. law, Martinez says he met with officials from the Metropolitan Police Department and the Alcohol Beverage Regulation Administration Monday morning.
That his establishment has been described as racist bothers Martinez. “The [old] policy is not based on race at all,” he says. Martinez immigrated to the United States from Colombia in 1994 and upon arrival in this country, he lived with and worked for an African American family. He remains grateful for the opportunity that family provided. He says most of his customers are African American and all of his employees are minorities. “Our employees are trained to treat every customer equally and respectfully,” he continues.
Aziz, however, is not convinced. She says an Alero representative did contact her via email but she describes the apology as “generic.” Aziz, who is president of the NoMa/H Street Civic Association, has reached out to the mayor’s office and is also considering organizing a protest. Her original Facebook post has been shared more than 2000 times. She says she will not be returning to Alero.