A Dunkin’ Donuts store owner met Wednesday with a Portland college student and activist who called out the business on social media after a store employee refused to serve her Somali-speaking family and then called police following an argument in the drive-thru lane.
Hamdia Ahmed, 20, said she felt that the employee discriminated against her and two relatives for speaking Somali as they waited to order coffee at the St. John Street Dunkin’ Donuts on Monday afternoon.
Ahmed said she and her relatives drove to the coffee shop around 12:30 p.m. and waited for a store employee to ask for their order. As the family chatted in Somali in the car, a woman’s voice crackled through the speaker and admonished them for yelling, Ahmed said.
“All of a sudden we heard a woman say, ‘stop yelling, stop yelling,’ ” Ahmed said “We’re like what’s happening. We’re just having a conversation. We were talking in Somali. She told us she’s not going to take our order and for us to leave and she was going to call the police.”
Ahmed, a refugee from Somalia who arrived in the United States more than a dozen years ago, has emerged in recent years as an outspoken anti-racism social justice activist and organizer.
After the argument in the drive-thru lane, Ahmed said she parked her car and went inside the store to speak with someone.
A store employee called Portland police, and after an officer spoke to Ahmed and store employees, the police issued Ahmed a no-trespass notice barring her from returning to the store for a year. The officer listed the cause of the no-trespass notice as “disturbance – yelling at staff.”
Ahmed posted an image of the no-trespass notice to her Twitter and Facebook accounts, as well as posting a video showing parts of the encounter. The video recording does not depict the initial exchange at the drive-thru kiosk, only a portion of the argument that followed.
“You’re going to disrespect me because I speak a different language than you?” Ahmed said in the recording. “Is that what it is?”
“It has nothing to do with your language,” the employee said through the loud-speaker. “You can leave. I don’t want to hear it. I’m done with it. You can leave, or I’ll call the cops.”
Following the online posting about the encounter, Ahmed organized a protest Tuesday night outside the store, and about 12 people showed up to demonstrate.
Following the demonstration, she was contacted by a corporate representative of Dunkin’ Donuts who apologized, Ahmed said.
The owner of the St. John Street store, Dave DaRosa, met with Ahmed Wednesday and also apologized, Ahmed said. They discussed how to avoid these types of encounters in the future and he rescinded the no-trespass order, according to Ahmed.
“He gave a sincere apology,” she said. “He acknowledged that the police should have never been called.”
Reached by phone Wednesday after their meeting, DaRosa declined to comment and referred all media inquiries to a Dunkin’ Donuts corporate email address. The company did not respond to a list of submitted questions, but Ahmed provided a message from the company saying it strives to treat everyone with dignity and respect and acknowledging that the franchise owner has apologized to the customer for the “negative experience.”
The company later issued a statement:
“Dunkin’ and our franchisees are committed to creating a positive customer service experience for all of our guests,” the company’s emailed statement said. “The franchisee who owns and operates the store has confirmed he has met with the guest, sincerely apologized to her for the poor experience and is working on providing additional customer service training to his store crew.”
“I appreciate their apology but what I really wanted to get out of the meeting is I want training for their workers,” Ahmed said. “Because they can’t treat people like that, and the police should have never been called.”
Ahmed, a University of Southern Maine student who has been an outspoken anti-racist activist in Portland who does not shy from public demonstrations and discussions about race, said she felt compelled to speak up and publicize her encounter through social media.
“I can’t just ignore stuff like this because that would mean I’m allowing it to happen,” she said.
Ahmed had a similar encounter in September at an Old Port Starbucks, where she said an employee laughed and rolled her eyes at her when she asked for the employee to check the alcohol content of a vanilla flavoring, News Center Maine (WCSH) reported. Ahmed, who is Muslim, abstains from alcohol.