Mix-Up With African-American Congregation Leads Famous Dave's Into Racial Bias Controversy

One of two cornbread dishes received by Porter.
One of two cornbread dishes received by Porter.
Courtesy of Arthur Porter
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Pastor Arthur Porter and his team at New Nation Church in Aurora ordered delivery from Famous Dave’s Bar-B-Que on Father’s Day, June 17, for the whole congregation. Porter and his colleagues had ordered from the chain’s branch in Stapleton plenty of times before, and church members had always enjoyed the Southern barbecue. But on this occasion, what started as a celebration turned into what Porter initially believed to be an act of racial discrimination.

When the food was delivered to the church, the lids of two of the containers of cornbread had this message: “cornbread Black/negro.” Porter was shocked and thought they referred to the fact that he presides over a black church. “We were very offended," he says. "We didn’t understand why that was written on our food. If you’re an African-American and you received that, you don’t know if they put something in the food or not.”

Fearing the food might have been doctored, the church leaders decided not to serve it.

Later that day, Alflita Smith, culinary director at New Nation Church, went to Famous Dave’s in Stapleton to discuss the labeling with one of the managers, Hannah Madrid-Andrews, who is herself African-American.

Madrid-Andrews told Smith that the labeling had nothing to do with race, but was instead color-coding to prevent catering order mix-ups.

The company explained that it color-codes its catering orders to make sure everything gets to the right destination. New Nation Church received a random color assignment, which happened to be black. On that particular occasion, the restaurant was out of black stickers, so an employee wrote “black” to indicate the color code of the order. A Spanish-speaking employee then translated black to Spanish and wrote “negro,” so that the Spanish-speaking kitchen staff would not get confused.

“We have fully investigated what happened and are confident in our findings. There was no malice or bad intentions meant by any of the team members involved,” the company wrote in a statement about the matter.

But Porter didn't believe that staff members at the Stapleton branch of Famous Dave’s showed enough sensitivity to the nature of his concerns. When Porter spoke the next day with Michelle Gagnon, a manager at Famous Dave's, he says she told him that he was overreacting and that she could not be racist since she has a black boyfriend and eats collard greens.

“I was amazed. It was very offensive,” Porter says of the conversation.

Arthur Porter posing with the cornbread container.
Arthur Porter posing with the cornbread container.
Courtesy of Arthur Porter

Porter and his team then tried to reach out to Famous Dave’s corporate office. Porter says that on June 21, he spoke with Reggie Foster, who refused to share his title despite being asked to do so six times. According to Porter, Foster eventually admitted that he was in "management.”

Famous Dave's says that it offered a full refund and apologized to church officials just days after the first incident.

"That's a lie," Porter says. "Why don't they just call me and say, 'Pastor Porter, we realize that we offended you?'"

While Porter says he accepts the explanation of the mix-up, he is not satisfied with the company's subsequent handling of the matter, and reached out to Amos Jones, a prominent civil-rights attorney in Washington, D.C., to handle his concerns. Jones filed a complaint on Porter’s behalf with the Colorado Civil Rights Division.

Jones reached out to Famous Dave's staff via email on June 21, June 25 and July 10. By July 14, he says he had still not heard back from Famous Dave’s lawyers. “I’ve never experienced anything like this in my entire career of practicing law," he says. "We have never had our concerns acknowledged.”

"We have offered to meet and talk about it. The church is not being receptive. I'm afraid it's turning into something that it shouldn't," says Jeff Meyer, director of operations for Famous Dave's Colorado.

Porter and his supporters plan to protest outside of Famous Dave's in Stapleton, 7557 East 36th Avenue, at 1 p.m. today, July 15.

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