Link Alexander walked into the Rocky Mount Pizza Inn with a coupon for a free buffet. But management wouldn't let him use it, he said.
Alexander is black.
Hours later, Alexander's friend Rex Casey, who is white, tried to use the coupon and got a different response, he says.
Now the restaurant is being accused of racism.
Alexander said he handed the coupon to an employee of the Hunter Hill Road restaurant, and she went to consult an assistant manager.
"He looks at the card. He looks at me. He was like, 'So where did you get the card from?'" Alexander told WRAL on April 26. He said he got the coupon from his pastor. He wrote about his experience on Facebook and posted a photo of the coupon.
The coupon read: "Present this card at any participating Pizza Inn location." The coupon also had a signature written on a line that read "Presented by."
Alexander said the assistant manager told him the signature had to belong to the restaurant's manager or the district manager, and it did not.
Alexander said he left the restaurant after being told he could not use the coupon.
"To go through an interrogation just for a $7.99, $8.99 buffet?" Alexander told WRAL. "It just doesn't make sense that I had to go through that."
Hours later, Casey took the same coupon to the same restaurant.
"Link was understandably upset by this experience and frankly I had questions about it myself," Casey wrote on Facebook. "So I took his coupon, the same one they rejected 2 hours earlier, and went to the same Pizza Inn myself to see if my experience would be any different and also to confront the manager and ask for answers."
When Casey was allowed to use the coupon without incident, he said he asked to speak with the assistant manager.
Casey said he showed the coupon to the assistant manager but covered the signature with his hand. He said the assistant manager assured him that he could use the coupon, but when Casey uncovered the signature, the manager recognized it as the coupon Alexander tried to use earlier that day.
"He immediately jumped into the same thing he told Link. 'The issue is I can't really read the signature. I can't tell whose signature that is. I can't make it out. I don't think the owners would allow me to accept it,'" Casey said.
Casey made a video about the incident and posted it to Facebook on Monday. As of April 29, it had more than 38,000 views, had been shared more than 1,000 times and had more than 350 reactions.
Casey said he had received threats from people connected to restaurant employees.
"Now I know that everyone is super sensitive about race right now but these are the facts," Casey said, recounting the event.
After Casey's video, Pizza Inn released a statement on the incident: "This particular restaurant did not recognize the coupon that was presented and did not accept it from either guest. Our employees were exercising caution, as customers have attempted to use fraudulent cards in the past," adding that individual locations of the chain restaurant can create promotions not valid at other locations.
The owner of Rocky Mount Pizza Inn, where the incident occurred, Steve Stancil, apologized to Alexander on Facebook and offered him a free meal.
"We try to make our procedures clear on coupons but it does not always work," Stancil wrote. "I take full responsibility in that all our managers should be on the same page and obviously they were not. I believe if you look at our staff ... you would agree there is nothing racist about us."
Alexander responded to the apology on Facebook: "I cannot see myself patronizing or recommending your establishment," adding that he might return if restaurant policies are changed and Pizza Inn managers and staff receive diversity training.
"When God exposes you, you are EXPOSED!" Alexander wrote about the restaurant on Facebook, following media coverage of the incident. "I think more than 150 years of oppression in the BLACK community has been long enough. And it’s a shame that ignorance is still exists in our society today! I’m tired and regardless whether white, black, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, or any other race if you don’t fall in one of those categories, I know YOU are tired of it too."
Alexander said his son has worked at the Fairview Pizza Inn for six years and was employee of the year, and he was concerned his son would face retaliatory behavior.
Casey said he received calls from customers and restaurant staff who thanked him for making his video.
"This behavior from someone in any position of authority should not be tolerated," Casey said.