Senior officials at Bridgeman Foods, the company that owns the Wendy’s in Sun Prairie, are looking into why a manager closed early and called police when a group of seven teenagers, six black and one white, came to get food after the high school football game last Friday — and why her account of the incident differs from the police record.
As we reported earlier this week, the boys came to Wendy’s at around 9:30 and found the doors locked. They knocked on the door but were ignored, according to an account from Krista Smedema, the mother of one of the boys. They called parents to pick them up, and while they were waiting, the manager called police.
In response to our inquiries, Royce Simpson, Division Vice President for Bridgeman Foods, provided a written statement after speaking with the manager.
“Bridgeman Foods does not tolerate discrimination of any kind, and we take these accusations very seriously,” he wrote. “All customers are important to us and we work very hard as a company to create a welcoming and inclusive environment. After learning of this situation, we immediately launched an investigation and found this to be an unfortunate misunderstanding. Due to a high volume of teenaged fans in the parking lot that evening, our manager called local law enforcement for help with potential safety issues. Based on her conversation with the police, the restaurant team decided to close the dining room early. We apologize to our customers for this inconvenience and for any confusion this may have caused.”
However, Sun Prairie Police say the manager told them she had already locked the doors when she called police at 9:34 pm, and they say no police officer advised her to close the restaurant.
“I can 100 percent, unequivocally tell you that that is not correct,” said Sun Prairie Police Spokesman Lieutenant Kevin Konopacki.
Konopacki said records indicated there was no actual disturbance.
“Our caller is telling our officer initially (the teens) were causing a disturbance, but they’re not anymore, and that they would just like them moved along,” he said. “And from what I understand, we just had a conversation with them. They weren’t doing anything wrong, and then parents were coming to pick some of the kids up at that time.”
He also said the manager told police there were “at least five” teens in the parking lot — not exactly a “high volume.”
When informed of the discrepancies between the statement and the police account on Thursday, Simpson said the investigation would continue.
“If someone calls and feels they were discriminated against we just don’t feel that’s okay,” Simpson said in a telephone interview. “We don’t want people to feel like that. And we don’t tolerate it in our company. So what I can say is, we did issue that statement. We do still stand by that statement, however, I would say … today we are continuing that investigation. We are continuing to investigate that so we can get all the details and facts and make sure that we understand exactly what happened and exactly what the timeline is. So we’re doing that, and then we’ll do the right thing based on what exactly we find.”
Simpson noted that Bridgeman Foods, founded in 1988 by former Milwaukee Bucks star Junior Bridgeman, is especially sensitive to allegations of discrimination.
“I don’t care who owns the company, no one should be discriminated against. But we happen to be a minority owned and operated franchisee,” he said. “And so that would really make us even more sensitive to any type of discrimination. So we’re getting to the bottom of exactly what happened.”
Bridgeman Foods owns more than 350 restaurants, most of them Wendy’s and Chilli’s, in 16 states and employs nearly 18,000 people.
Simpson also said he had apologized directly to Smedema. We will continue to follow this story.