A McDonald's franchise reached out to a mother who was upset at the way her son with special needs was treated at Golden Corral.
Latonya Whitaker of Rocky Mount, North Carolina, told WTVD that she and her family had eaten at a local Golden Corral restaurant without any problems for over a year. However, that changed when restaurant staff were not willing to initially accommodate her child with special needs.
Whitaker’s son, 6-year-old E.J. Paterson, has autism spectrum disorder, including sensory and dietary needs. He can only eat certain foods, such as McDonald’s french fries.
"If [E.J.] asks for fries, I am going to get him fries,” Whitaker said, as reported by WNCN.
On June 22, Whitaker purchased some McDonald’s french fries for her son before joining the rest of her family at Golden Corral. A manager told the family that E.J. was not permitted to eat outside food in the restaurant.
"And his first words to me were, ‘Get that out of here. That can’t be in my restaurant,'" Whitaker recalled. "I said, ‘Sir, he has feeding issues, he’s autistic.'"
After talking back and forth, she decided to leave and record a Facebook video explaining her experience.
"It broke my heart to know that you had no compassion, no hurt... it's all about business, really?" Whitaker said in the video while crying.
The video has been viewed over 214,000 times and has been shared over 4,600 times.
"That is discrimination," said Whitaker. "You're supposed to accommodate people with special disabilities. That's what I thought anyway."
Kyle Eickoff, owner of the Rocky Mount Golden Corral restaurant, apologized for the misunderstanding and invited the family to come back and eat for free.
"[E.J.] doesn't eat their food, that's not doing anything for him because he was the one was actually discriminated against," Whitaker said.
McDonald’s franchise owner Matt Traub decided to reach out to the family and offer E.J. unlimited fries for a year.
"I was just shocked and started to cry," Whitaker recalled. "It was a beautiful moment. For them to actually care and understand and to help me, that's a blessing. Everybody is not so understanding. People don't go out of their way to help other people."
Some of Traub’s relatives volunteer with people with autism and he wanted to help the child.
"I just want to reward our fans and make his day, make him happy," Traub said.