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MOUTHING OFF

In the minority: The only grand slam found at Denny's these days comes from a door being closed--the one that says "Everyone is welcome."

If Denny's is like most chains, an enormous binder somewhere spells out company policies on everything from what shoes employees must wear to how long french fries should cook. Rarely, though, is there a section on common sense--and a lack of that is what usually causes trouble. It certainly did last month in Denver, in the second incident involving alleged discrimination by Denny's against black people in as many years.

Since the Leetsdale and Monaco restaurant is being investigated by the U.S. Justice Department and all parties involved have been instructed by their lawyers to avoid the press, you can get the story only from police and witness reports. The crux of the problem, it seems, is that four black women were kept waiting while both a white couple, who loudly made it clear they would not sit next to "niggers," and a second group of white people were accommodated. When they complained, the four women were seated at a table that was too small, then moved next to the couple, who proceeded to hurl racial slurs.

What I'd like to know is why the women didn't get the heck out of there as soon as the trouble started; after all, you can hurt a restaurant hardest--and fastest--at its cash register. And then I'd like to know whether the manager was a bigot or just so flustered trying to avoid a potentially ugly situation--which it turned into, anyway--that he wasn't thinking straight. The white couple should have been asked to leave from the start. All restaurants have a policy of "reserving the right to refuse service to anyone," and people making loud, racist remarks sound like good candidates for ejection to me.

Companies can't fire employees for having racist thoughts. They can, however, boot employees when they jeopardize business. And this is apparently one of those times, since it's been reported by several black leaders that black people are refusing to eat at Denny's. There's now talk of Denny's giving a black person ownership of a Denver restaurant to smooth things over, but while that would show commitment on the chain's part (and certainly wouldn't hurt in winning back the loyalty of minorities), I wonder how the owner would be treated in the long run.

Ch-ch-ch-changes: One of Denver's best promoters of minority-owned eateries is Susan Permut, whose book Denver's Ethnic Restaurants is an excellent reference for ethnic dining--particularly those little, out-of-the-way spots. Permut now has started a series of five-hour tours of ethnic food establishments. Cost is $45 per person; call 987-8646...Cliff Young's has lost two of its best and brightest--chef Sean Brasel recently gave notice in order to pursue the restaurant consulting business, and general manager Vijay Mehra, once GM at Imperial Chinese Restaurant, has returned to grace Imperial's new location at 431 South Broadway...Joe Donohue has called it quits at Messina's, the Italian place he was trying to make out of the old DeVine Cafe...To no one's surprise, the Creekside Grill is gone; I had stopped by several times recently and found it nearly empty. Now Radek Cerny, who owns several versions of both the European Cafe and Al Fresco, has reopened the place as Papillon, offering a French and Thai menu.

 
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