ROCKY MOUNT, N.C. --A mother is upset with a popular restaurant after she said her family was forced to leave because of her son with autism.
Latonya Whitaker says for a year-and-a-half, she has dined at the Golden Corral in Rocky Mount without issue. She has a 6-year-old son with autism. The boy has sensory and dietary needs, and he only eats certain foods.
Whitaker said last Friday, for the first time, restaurant staff told them her son could no longer bring in outside items.
"That is discrimination," said Whitaker. "You're supposed to accommodate people with special disabilities. That's what I thought anyway."
Upset and angry, Whitaker walked out of the restaurant and took a video of herself about the incident. It was posted on Facebook and has been shared more than 4,000 times.
"It broke my heart to know that you had no compassion, no hurt... it's all about business, really?" Whitaker lamented in the video.
Whitaker is seen in the video sitting in her car with tears rolling down her face.
"I never been so angry, so hurt in my entire life," she said.
Whitaker's son, E.J. Paterson, is picky when it comes to food. Texture plays a big role in what he consumes, like many other children with autism. He recently found something he likes eating and can keep down.
"French fries," E.J. said.
E.J. has an affinity for the ones at McDonald's especially, and Whitaker said she will often drive 20 minutes out of her way daily to get her son food.
Whitaker got her son fries Friday and then drove over to the Golden Corral, where the rest of her family was going to grab lunch. She explained her son's dietary restrictions and said the staff was dismissive instead of receptive.
The Golden Corral has since apologized about the incident.
"We're really sorry about the misunderstanding," said Golden Corral of Rocky Mount owner Kyle Eickoff.
The chain issued a statement:
"We are aware of an unfortunate misunderstanding between one of our managers and a guest who has a child with autism spectrum disorder. While we typically do not allow guests to bring in food from other restaurants, we always strive to be sensitive to our guests' needs and supportive of all members of the Rocky Mount community. Indeed, in this case, once we learned the guest's child had autism spectrum order and would only eat certain foods, we waived the policy, but the guest chose to leave. We certainly did not mean to upset our guest. We welcome all guests with special needs and are committed to ensuring our staff is sensitive to the needs of all of our guests. We have reached out to the mother and apologized for this misunderstanding. We invite her and her family to return, as our guests, to dine with us again."
The Golden Corral invited the family to come inside and have a meal on the house, but Whitaker is not taking up the offer.
"He doesn't eat their food, that's not doing anything for him because he was the one was actually discriminated against, not me. So their meal isn't going to do anything for him," said Whitaker.
Whitaker said she appreciated the apology, but is still hurt by what happened.