80-year-old Marti Warren thought she was doing a good thing a little over a month ago when she booked a local Olive Garden restaurant in Oxford, Alabama, to host a Kiwanis club awards banquet. The chapter president got a rude awakening the night of the gathering, however, when restaurant staff refused to allow her to bring an American flag inside the restaurant.
Warren, who lived through World War II and was later part of her local desegregation movement, said, "This is not my country. This is not my country I grew up with."
The justly outraged Warren told WBRC-TV, "I was so angry. I felt like I had been slapped in the face":
That slap came from the Oxford Olive Garden. One hour before the Golden K Kiwanis club's awards banquet the restaurant manager told Warren she couldn't bring in their banner or even an American flag. "I said having known this earlier you can bet we never would have eaten here. And I said if we had time we would have gone to McDonald's because we know they are American all the way through," said Warren
In response, Olive Garden's parent company, Orlando-based Darden Restaurants, said in a statement:
"Like all Americans we have nothing but the utmost respect and admiration for the American flag and everything it symbolizes. In fact, we periodically provide American flag collar pins to our employees to wear while serving our guests. We understand and appreciate the way some people have reacted to the situation in Oxford and we're very sorry if this decision has caused them any concern. The Oxford Olive Garden does not have a private dining area. To be fair to everyone and avoid disrupting the dining experience for all other guests, they're unable to accommodate flags or banners of any type in the dining room."
But Warren says that's not what the restaurant told her:
In fact she says they told her she'd be in banquet room three. And as for being in the way, they were seated in the back by the kitchen. "I resent that. I do resent that. I'm about truthfulness and that's not truthful," said Warren.
While the American flag was not present during the Kiwanis club banquet, Warren urged the group to close their eyes, picture the most "beautiful" American flag and recite the pledge of allegiance.
Warren is not taking things lying down either. She has vowed to boycott Olive Garden along with all other Darden restaurants and has urged others to do the same.
"Word of mouth is powerful and if people find this out and decide not to patronage these places...it will hurt them in their pocket," said Warren.
It is probably worth noting that just last month, Darden Restaurants agreed to partner with Michelle Obama's "Partnership for a Healthier America" by cutting the calorie and sodium levels of menu items by 10 percent within the next five years and 20 percent within the next 10 years.
ABC 33/40 brings us the report and an interview with Warren: