ROCKY MOUNT, N.C. -- Six-year-old E.J. Paterson walked into a Rocky Mount, N.C. McDonald's on Friday afternoon and received a warm welcome. Several of his family members and corporate heads were there. People were taking his picture, as his mom proudly looked on.
E.J. has autism and the franchise owner offered him unlimited fries for a year, after his mom said the boy was made to feel unwelcome at a nearby restaurant.
"It is a blessing," said his mom, Latonya Whitaker. "I am very grateful."
E.J., like other kids on the spectrum, is picky when it comes to food. Texture plays a big role. He recently found something he likes eating and can hold down in his stomach - McDonald's French fries.
Mom got the child 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 needs and said that instead of the staff being receptive, they were dismissive.
The Golden Corral has apologized and called the incident an "unfortunate misunderstanding."
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 mom did not immediately take up the offer.
McDonald's franchise owner Matt Traub watched the story and reached out to the family. Some of Traub's family members do volunteer work within the autism community and he wanted to help the little boy.
"I just want to reward our fans and make his day, make him happy," Traub said.
"I was just shocked and started to cry," said Whitaker about receiving the offer. "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."