MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The owner of an upscale restaurant is now out days after accusations of racial discrimination and profiling at his restaurants. The allegations involved customers and former employees mostly at Flight in Downtown
The ownership team bought out their partner, Russ Graham, Tuesday afternoon along with outlining plans to bring in an HR firm to evaluate policies, and they will investigate these claims to see if there were any violations.
After four straight days of protests outside of Flight, Memphis City Council members reacted to the allegations of racial discrimination at the restaurant.
The council voted unanimously Tuesday for a resolution urging the Mayor’s office to hold Flight’s parking contract with the city until an investigation into the allegations is complete.
This would impact Flight’s ability to use city streets for outdoor seating and valet parking.
“My request for this council would be for everyone to join and show that this body does not take kindly to, we strongly disdain discrimination on any forms and any basis and send a very strong message of solidarity,” said Memphis city councilman JB Smiley, Jr. who sponsored the resolution.
Michelle Culbreth said this resolution is a step in the right direction.
“This is too serious of an issue to tiptoe around it any longer,” said Culbreth.
FOX13 first talked with Culbreth Monday when she alleged Flight’s then-owner Russ Graham discriminated against her group of friends, mostly black women, by kicking them out of one of his other restaurants, Southern Social in Germantown for being too loud in 2018.
“The fact that the council responded so quickly to public outcry, really kind of reinforces that this is a problem that needs to be dealt with soon, there’s momentum going,” Culbreth said.
FOX13 emailed, called and texted Graham for a comment about city council’s resolution but before we could get a response, FOX13 learned he was bought out by Flight’s ownership team and he’s no longer affiliated with any of the restaurants.
Monday Graham told FOX13 over the phone he couldn’t respond to the claims because he didn’t think they happened.
Later in a statement, we were told, “As a leadership team we apologize if we have been insensitive in anyway.”
Before city council’s unanimous vote, we reached out to the mayor’s office about this resolution.
In a statement, Ursula Madden, the city’s Chief Communications Officer said per the city charter, sole contracting authority rests with the Mayor. “Without knowing all the facts of the situation, it would be irresponsible to make a decision based solely off a rumor on social media….however, Council is free to make recommendations whenever they feel it prudent.”
Culbreth said she would be disappointed if Mayor Jim Strickland didn’t follow through with the council’s recommendation.
“You have council members who are responding to their constituents,” Culbreth said. “You know if [Strickland] chooses to not acknowledge or abide by the recommendation, I’m really hoping he gives his rationale for this decision.”
Immediately after the vote, FOX13 reached back out to the mayor’s office around 6 p.m. for an updated comment about the resolution and the actions of the restaurant group but we haven’t heard back.
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