Panera Bread has apologized to the family of a 2-year-old girl that was asked to leave a Savannah, Ga., restaurant because the child's special orthopedic shoes were reportedly bothering a customer.
Emma, who has developmental delays that make walking difficult, was at the Panera location with her mother, Catherine Duke, on Jan. 2, when, the parent said, they were approached by an assistant manager who gave them an ultimatum: Take off the shoes, or leave, local station WTOC reports.
Duke said she was shocked and humiliated by the request.
"It was very hurtful, and I left the store crying, not a very good thing for a mom to feel like her child is being discriminated against," she told WTOC.
In an interview with ABC's "Good Morning America," Emma's dad, Stephen Duke, explained that the special shoes are required by her doctor.
“She just started to try to walk at 23 months, which is very late, so the orthopedist recommended special shoes to her for better ankle support,” the father told the outlet. “The shoes squeak as an incentive when she walks heel to toe, so she’ll hear it and know that she’s walking properly.”
Now, it appears Panera is trying to make amends for its mistake. The St. Louis-based chain has officially apologized to the Duke family and said it would like to host a fundraiser for Emma to help pay for her medical bills.
"They want to help children with disabilities and this was just something that happened in their café and they are not proud of it," the girl's mother told WTOC in a follow-up interview.
Panera also released the following statement regarding the incident:
As you would expect, Panera Bread does not tolerate discrimination of any kind. The last thing we would want to do is make anyone feel unwelcome. Consistent with this system-wide policy, our franchisee met personally with Ms. Duke today to directly hear and address the concerns she has raised. We understand from our franchisee that Ms. Duke has been assured that she and her family are always welcome at Panera and her concerns have been addressed.
All associates at this bakery-cafe will be receiving updated and ongoing customer relations training.