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Baltimore’s Atlas Restaurant Group pushes back, saying Ouzo Bay incident wasn’t racially motivated, white child wore khakis

Facing protests and calls for a boycott, Baltimore’s Atlas Restaurant Group is pushing back against allegations of racism.

In a statement released Thursday by the company’s lawyers, the restaurant group pointed to its good works, released surveillance photos that show Black patrons at Ouzo Bay and identified the brand of shorts a white child was wearing on Father’s Day.

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The response stems from a now-infamous moment June 21 when Black mom Marcia Grant and her 9-year-old son, Dallas, were denied service at the Atlas owned Ouzo Bay restaurant in Harbor East. A manager informed Grant that the boy’s shorts violated the eatery’s dress code. Meanwhile, in video Grant took at the scene, she pointed out that a white boy in similar dress could be seen nearby.

Grant has said the incident had been traumatic for her child. “This is something that he’s going to have to live with for the rest of his life. It doesn’t heal like a wound would,” she told The Baltimore Sun last week.

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Days after the June 21 incident, founder Alex Smith said managers had made a mistake in turning the family away, and fired two managers involved. In an interview with The Baltimore Sun, Smith said he hoped for the chance to make amends to Dallas and wished to mentor him. The restaurant group also dropped the dress code at two of its properties in the Four Seasons Hotel and scaled back dress codes elsewhere.

But, through a statement sent Thursday by attorney Scott H. Marder, Atlas Restaurant Group vowed to fight a potential lawsuit from Grant — and maintained that the June 21 incident was not racially motivated.

Citing her appearance on “Good Morning America,” Marder accused Grant of going on “an orchestrated media tour.”

An attorney for Grant declined to comment on the statement.

The three-page statement maintained the restaurant group “supports countless nonprofits and community organizations,” which it did not name, and noted its distribution of 7,000 bags of groceries during the pandemic. It was accompanied by stills of restaurant video showing Black diners seated around Ouzo Bay the day of the encounter.

Atlas Restaurant Group provided surveillance photos showing black patrons eating at their restaurant at the time of an incident in which a Black woman and her son were denied service.
Atlas Restaurant Group provided surveillance photos showing black patrons eating at their restaurant at the time of an incident in which a Black woman and her son were denied service. (Atlas Restaurant Group)

“Restaurant surveillance video throughout that same day at Ouzo Bay demonstrates that the customers of Ouzo Bay look exactly like the population of Baltimore City — diverse,” Marder wrote.

Though the white boy pictured in the video Grant took of the exchange and posted to social media had appeared to be wearing similar clothing to 9-year-old Dallas, the statement from Marder maintains that the white child was actually wearing J. Crew khaki shorts, which are in compliance with the restaurant’s dress code. A link to the website where the pants can be purchased was provided.

Marder called on Grant to release the full 10-minute video of her interaction with an Ouzo Bay manager, “so that the public can judge for themselves everything that happened during this encounter.”

At the same time, he defended the firing of two managers in the incident’s aftermath. “This was a failure of management, not discrimination,” Marder wrote, saying that Atlas was dissatisfied “with the level of sensitivity, discretion, and judgment demonstrated by management on-duty at the time.”

Marder also included testimony from Black staff and vendors to attest to the lack of bias at the company. Some seemed to conflict with the lawyer’s arguments that the incident had not been racially motivated.

“While the video acted [as] a sad reminder of the horror racism plays in our society today, it should never be a representation of the Atlas Restaurant family,” wrote employee Demetrius Brandon. He recounted how he had risen from security guard at Loch Bar to head of security for multiple Atlas-owned properties.

Grant’s attorneys say they have filed a lawsuit against the company in Baltimore City Circuit Court. Records did not appear in online court records Thursday evening, and details of the suit were not available for publication.

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Marder also lambasted City Council President and Democratic mayoral nominee Brandon Scott, who urged the restaurant group to drop its dress code across all its properties, and State Sen. Jill Carter, who, in a Baltimore Sun op-ed, urged diners to boycott Atlas Restaurant Group eateries.

“While Senator Carter may not need a job, Atlas’ 700 employees (who are on the front lines in a pandemic) need and want these jobs to feed and support their families. We expect more from our elected officials. Both Senator Carter and President Scott owe Atlas’ workforce (which is diverse at all levels of the company) an immediate, public apology.”

Scott and Carter could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday evening.

Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke says she plans to introduce a resolution to the City Council on Monday that urges Atlas to drop its dress code at all restaurants. Clarke, who represents District 14, said she was compelled to introduce the resolution after feeling “embarrassed” for Grant and her son, as well as seeing a petition being circulated that was created by local musicians who played at the restaurants.

“How embarrassing and humiliating for that mother and child,” she said. “I just can’t get that image out of my mind knowing that young people are so sensitive at that age.”

Clarke said she hopes the resolution will not only help change the dress code but also encourage Atlas to give back to the neighborhoods surrounding its restaurants.

Baltimore Sun reporter McKenna Oxenden contributed to this article.

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