Three Black women in the Valley will no longer eat at The Cheesecake Factory after they said a manager at a Peoria location racially profiled them and accused them of dining and dashing on Saturday even though they paid for their check.
After shopping, Salisha Rigsbee, Chelsey Richardson and Marquelle Blassingame stopped by The Cheesecake Factory in Peoria near 83rd Avenue and Bell Road for an appetizer and drinks to celebrate Blassingame’s birthday.
They finished eating and paid $52 for the bill and tip through a touchless payment option, a QR code, when the waitress gave them their check — it was the same payment method they used at another Cheesecake Factory in Phoenix on Wednesday, Rigsbee said.
After paying and hanging out in front of the restaurant for several minutes, the women walked back to Blassingame’s car when a man, who they said appeared to be a restaurant manager, followed them and wrote down her license plate number on a piece of paper.
When Richardson asked him why he was writing their license plate number, he responded and said, “‘I know what’s going on here, it’s not a problem. It’s cool. I know what’s going on here,'” and walked back into the store, according to Richardson and Rigsbee.
Women say employees refused to let them talk with manager
The women didn’t back down — Rigsbee and Blassingame are attorneys and all three work at Rigsbee’s company, The Rigsbee Law Firm.
After the man wrote down Blassingame’s license number, the women went back in the store to ask what happened and to see if their payment went through, even though their card was already charged, according to a screenshot of the online receipt.
The women first asked their waitress if she didn’t think they paid for the meal and the waitress apologized, but Richardson said, “‘Sorry is not going to cut it. What happened here? What’s the problem?’ I said ‘Go get that manager, go bring him out, so that we can talk to him because he is back there calling the police on us … This is going to escalate to be an issue because he’s calling the cops on us for something we did not do.'”
The women spoke with two more managers, but were still not allowed to speak with the man who wrote down their license plate, said Richardson, who also asked the managers what their procedure was for checking online payments.
“You’re not writing down a license plate number to send me a Christmas card,” Rigsbee said she told one of the managers. “If you have a system in place, you have to use that system. And you can’t racially profile people and assume that because they use your system and paid via your QR code that they’re automatically stealing.”
The Cheesecake Factory has allowed contactless payment using QR codes on cell phones since May due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and Rigsbee’s receipt included a QR code and instruction on how to pay.
Other than an apology and a business card, the general manager did not offer anything else to the women and said he could “not allow” the man “to come out and publicly humiliate himself,” Richardson said.
“I said, ‘How not, when he publicly humiliated us and wrongfully accused us of stealing?'” Richardson said to the general manager. “The least you can do is have them come out and apologize for his wrongs, but yet, he’s back there being a coward, and refusing to address the wrong that he did that could have cost us our lives over $47.”
‘Why was your first thought that we stole from you?’
Rigsbee and Richardson said they tried to explain to the general manager how afraid they were and why, but said he didn’t seem to understand.
“Why do we continue to have to go through these things? And why was your first thought that we stole from you and not to say, ‘We’ll just go check the system?'” Rigsbee said.
The three women have not heard from The Cheesecake Factory since the incident but said they plan to send a formal letter to the corporate office on Monday.
“Black Americans are being killed for doing nothing wrong on a daily basis. And this is another instance where we could have lost our lives if he would have finished that call with the police and have them come out for something we did not do. We had proof of our payments,” Richardson said.
Rigsbee said the situation could have been avoided if common sense was used.
“I have my associate attorney with me, my chief of staff, a whole law firm, sitting here having just a quick bite to eat. And we have masks on … that says ‘The Rigsbee Law Firm,’ right?” Rigbsee said. “If someone was stealing from me, would they casually walk out and have a whole five-minute conversation in front of my restaurant, just standing there with their mask on where I can identify that logo?”
The Cheesecake Factory did not respond to a request for comment Sunday.
Reverend: It’s not the first incident at Peoria Cheesecake Factory location
On Saturday, Rigsbee and Richardson posted on social media about the incident. Rigsbee’s post was shared nearly 150 times and had more than 100 comments showing support from well-known leaders in the local Black community, including Rev. Redeem Robinson.
Robinson, who shared the post and information on his Facebook, said he has heard of at least three other incidents in which Black people at this specific Cheesecake Factory location felt discriminated against by white staff members over the past two years.
“During this climate that we’re in, you would think that a business would be a little more conscious and a little bit more aware,” Robinson said. “It looks like they need some kind of discrimination training, some kind of bias training.”
The Cheesecake Factory should apologize to the Black community, said Robinson, who is the senior pastor at the Ebenezer Church of Phoenix.
“You never know who’s going to walk into your restaurant. What they just did is they disrespected, they discriminated against an attorney, a Black woman who’s an attorney here in the Valley who is very well known,” Robinson said.
Robinson also asked Facebook users on Rigsbee’s post to write negative reviews on the location’s social media and online pages.
“When you see issues like this, it’s time to put them on blast, and tell our community to stop giving people who discriminate against us our money. No more spending money at places that discriminate against Black, brown, Indigenous people,” Robinson said.
Robinson said he would like to compile a list of businesses that are known to “openly disrespect” Black people.
“Put these businesses on blast, that these are not safe places for us to eat at, they’re not safe places for us to do business with — one of the reasons why I’ve also been advocating that we need to buy within our community,” Robinson said. “But also, it’s sad that we have to even do that. We should be able to buy from wherever and whomever.”
Reach the reporter at Audrey.Jensen@arizonarepublic.com or on Twitter at @Audreyj101.