Jean Banchet Awards pull SKY sommelier nomination after racial profiling allegation

After a group of Chicago diners contacted the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation alleging they had been racially profiled while dining at SKY, the posh, Asian-inspired upscale restaurant in Pilsen, the foundation revoked the nomination of the restaurant’s sommelier for a prestigious Jean Banchet award.

Jelena Prodan was among five nominees in the sommelier category for awards recognizing the Chicago restaurant and bar industry, now in their 20th year — and the only woman. The awards will be announced at a gala benefiting the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation on Sunday, May 1.

Prodan was involved in an incident which occurred on the evening of Sunday April 24, when a group of diners of various races said that restaurant staff had shown racist and homophobic behavior towards them, questioning s they could afford a $56 Scotch. The restaurant, meanwhile, says its staff wanted to avoid its customers being surprised after asking for their check. Staff say customers were never asked if they could pay for drinks and were simply told the cost.

Descriptions of the dinner started circulating earlier this week on social networks. However, the shared accounts did not fully match the stories shared by SKY staff members and restaurant diners. The party began calling on social media for Prodan and two other restaurant workers to lose their jobs, and contacted sponsors at Les Banchets.

“Following the incident at the SKY restaurant, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation cancels the Jean Banchet award nomination of its sommelier. While details of the incident are still emerging, we remain committed to caring for our community and creating an environment that promotes and celebrates diversity, equity and inclusion, it read. in a press release from the foundation.

SKY owner Stephen Gillanders said he was not considering firing Prodan over the incident. He says he thinks the decision to rescind the nomination was a rash conclusion given that the Banchets did not contact him, Prodan or any of the other parties involved, who have different accounts of the incident. Prodan was not made available for maintenance.

“We respect the decision, we disagree with it,” Gillanders said. “The problem is that the decision was made without investigation of the facts.”

Pilsen resident Orlando Campos, a Mexican American, and his partner Tylor Dunnican, who is white, say they hosted a dinner party for four more friends — two African Americans and two Mexican Americans — to celebrate that two of them get a new job. The group was in good spirits and ordered two rounds of food and drink without incident.

Tensions began to mount when Campos, 33, ordered his third glass of 21-year-old Glenlivet. The waiter, a white male, walked away from the table with the order, only to return with a question: “He said, ‘They’re quite expensive, can you keep paying for those drinks?'” Campos explains. I literally stopped for about three seconds and thought, “Wait a minute. Yeah, that just happened.”

According to Gillanders, the waiter came to the bar manager, Luis Millan, fearing the group would be angry if he didn’t tell them the price. “They agreed that we just wanted to let them know the drink was $56 to avoid sticker shock,” Gillanders says.

Campos confirmed he wasn’t concerned about the cost, Dunnican said, and the server left to collect the drink. When the server returned, Dunnican says they discussed the trade, explaining that the question might seem like a bigoted one. The server apologized, according to Dunnican, noting that SKY was understaffed and overwhelmed. In the background, restaurant staff were consulting with Prodan, who was absent that day and not on site. Apparently she had texted the waiter asking for the price. Gillanders says another staff member eventually contacted Prodan to come to work to help with the situation.

Campos and Dunnican say they asked to speak to him, but instead spoke with Millan, who Gillanders identifies as gay and Latino. Millan did not apologize, according to Dunnican, but repeated the server’s arguments about a shortage of staff at the restaurant.

After the band kept asking for staff to sort out the situation, Millan called Prodan to talk to them. When she arrived, the couple claim she was tripping, leading them to believe she was intoxicated. Gillanders disagrees with the account, saying Prodan attended Easter services that day with his family.

Prodan’s presence inflamed the situation, says Dunnican, adding that she spoke loud enough to get the attention of diners at surrounding tables, then “she [threw] bill wallet at our table and said, “I don’t care what happened, you pay that bill.”

Campos thinks Prodan’s comment likely stems from a misunderstanding of his demands for staff to “fix” the situation. “We just needed them to take responsibility for what they did with an apology,” he says. “We’ve never had a problem with pricing. We had been there several times and knew what we had to spend there.

Dunnican provided his credit card for the approximately $900 tab, which Prodan accepted and handled, but told him that despite years of supporting SKY and living a few blocks from the restaurant, he would not return. .

For Dunnican, the insinuation that they were looking for free items was unacceptable, because earlier in the day he and Campos had spent hundreds of dollars at Gillanders’ South Loop restaurant, Apolonia.

“I walked up and said, ‘I’ve personally spent thousands of dollars here, brought my family here, brought clients here from work, celebrated birthdays. We will never come back. She said, ‘Good. Anyway, we don’t want your type of people here.

“It’s clear that [Campos] and I’m gay, and clearly our friends are also gay,” Dunnican says. “When she said, ‘We don’t like your [type of people]’, does that mean Mexican American? Black? Gay? Weird ? What does that mean? Either way, it’s unacceptable. »

It was around this time that a man wearing a t-shirt from Green Room Tap next door entered the fray. According to Campos and Dunnican, the man put his hands on Campos’ chest to prevent him from moving forward. The man then withdrew one hand but left the other on Campos and turned to Prodan and Millan for approval to let Campos go.

Gillanders confirms that a member of staff other than Prodan had called the man, who was a bouncer and was standing next door, to enter SKY. he didn’t touch anyone.

The escalation of the incident shocked Dunnican. “I haven’t been spoken to like that since I grew up in the South and was discriminated against for being gay,” he says.

On Instagram on Thursday, April 28, Gillanders, who is Filipino and Scottish, released a statement saying they had conducted an internal review of the incident. He says he spoke to almost everyone at the restaurant, as well as in Campos. He says the staff could have reacted better, but he is certain that racism and homophobia were not at the heart of what happened. If they were, “there would have been a very different approach to dealing with that,” he says. “Ultimately, we sincerely regret that guests were offended or misinterpreted our intentions,” Gillanders said. “I was very frank. I’m sorry about [Campos] and the SKY community. To say we did nothing wrong is not what I’m saying.

Gillanders says his team will print a list of spirits with prices to avoid the situation in the future, although it may be difficult for restaurants for reasons such as fluctuating costs. “We should inform the parties of these prices in advance, not during the process,” he says.

Gillanders says he is also considering sensitivity training for his staff and having protocols in place for future situations like this. He wants to make sure that staff know exactly what to say in these cases, instead of improvising the dialogue during the service.

Nearly a week later, Campos and Dunnican say the events of the evening left them shaken, tired and anxious, especially in light of the cascade of anti-LGBTQ laws that are popping up across the country, as well as an increase homophobic and transphobic rhetoric fueled by the far right which has made its way into mainstream conservatism.

“At the end of the day, I don’t feel good about putting pressure on [the foundation]Campos explains. “However, I feel really good that they took time out of their busy schedules – this is an important organization for a special and important cause – and I’m grateful that they took the time to listen to us and do something about it.”

Founded in 2017, SKY was the first solo venture for Gillanders, who opened more than a dozen restaurants for celebrity French chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten and previously worked as an executive chef at Intro Chicago, Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, now closed. a la carte catering. Ahead of the opening, SKY angered some Latinx protesters gathered outside the building with gentrification concerns.

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