Less than a week after a Black woman and her son were denied entry into Baltimore’s Ouzo Bay, the Baltimore-based Atlas Restaurant Group announced that it will no longer enforce a dress code at either of its properties at the Four Seasons Hotel in Harbor East.
The company, which owns 15 eateries in the city as well as others in Texas and Florida, “continues to assess the policy at each of its venues,” according to a statement.
The Four Seasons Hotel in Baltimore issued a statement on Twitter on Thursday distancing itself from the restaurant group and saying it had shared its dismay over the Ouzo Bay incident with Atlas. “Given our concerns… they have agreed to remove the dress code from Maximon and The Bygone.”
For many critics of the Atlas Restaurant Group and its founder Alex Smith, the move may be too little, too late.
Last Sunday, a manager at Ouzo Bay prevented Marcia Grant and her son, 9-year-old Dallas, from entering the restaurant. In a video of the exchange, a white manager tells Grant her son’s attire does not meet the dress code. But Grant points out that a white boy is similarly dressed inside.
Amid a global reckoning on race, the video has gone viral many times over, drawing condemnation from celebrities and interviews with “Good Morning America.” Yelp pages for the various Atlas-owned properties in Baltimore have been flooded with negative reviews decrying the exchange.
Still, Smith insists that the dress code at various Atlas properties is meant not to exclude people but to elevate the guest experience, and in some cases, protect the safety of patrons.
In a rare interview with The Baltimore Sun, Smith, speaking Thursday at the Atlas offices in Harbor East, expressed regret for the incident, saying he hoped for the opportunity to make amends to the boy.
“We should have accommodated those guests,” Smith said. “I’ll never know what it feels like to be Dallas in that moment. But I want the opportunity to meet him. I want the opportunity to be a mentor to him. I want the opportunity to apologize to him and Marcia.” He said he’s made more than a dozen attempts to reach the family, to no avail.
The restaurant mogul and grandson of baker and developer John Paterakis says he found out about the incident before it went viral: Grant messaged the restaurant’s Facebook page to complain. He realized quickly: “They’re trying to apply a dress code to kids, why do we have a dress code for kids?” and moved quickly to abolish the dress code for children.
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Two managers who were working at Ouzo Bay that day were placed on leave and then fired. The company issued a series of statements to social media expressing disapproval of what happened.
But overall, Smith believes that the dress code is enforced regardless of race and social standing. “Even my own family has tried to get into properties and been turned away on multiple occasions,” he said.
He points to a case this year in which Gordon Ramsay was refused service at The Bygone. A guest of the Four Seasons, the celebrity chef known as much for his cooking as his television appearances opted to check out the restaurant on the hotel’s top floor, which boasts sweeping views of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor and elevated prices to match.
The only problem? Ramsay was wearing sneakers — something the dress code, until very recently, forbade. A manager called Smith to let him know the situation.
Smith’s answer: “He can’t come in.”
While Smith stands by that decision, he’s adamant that such a stringent dress code should not have applied to 9-year-old Dallas.
“I’ll never know ever what it felt like as a 9-year-old kid to be turned away from a restaurant.”