Shannon Gridley departed Jefferson Community and Technical College in Louisville, Kentucky, on Tuesday evening for a bite to eat — and brought along some impromptu company, the Courier-Journal reported.
The paper said the 44-year-old empty-nester who's studying to be nurse was inspired by a biography of comedian Eddie Murphy, who is said to have taken drifters and prostitutes to dinner when he was working the stand-up circuit in Los Angeles — and so Gridley followed in his footsteps.
First, she invited three homeless people she saw on the street to have dinner with her, the Courier-Journal said.
Then she saw three more people on a corner holding signs and asking for money, the paper said, and she offered to take them to dinner also.
Walking under a viaduct, Gridley encountered about six other people — some of them asleep — and invited them along, too, the Courier-Journal noted.
'Invite them all'
Then one of her guests spotted a friend standing at a bus stop with about five other people, the paper said, and Gridley kept up her welcoming spirit: "Invite them all."
By the time she entered a nearby Taco Bell, Gridley told the Courier-Journal about 20 folks were in tow ranging in age from mid-teens to mid-60s.
But then they encountered resistance.
More from the paper:
First, a security guard began questioning one of the men in the group. When she saw what was going on, Gridley said she approached the guard and explained.
"I held up my credit card and said, 'All these people are going to order everything they want, and I'm paying for it,'" she said.
The employee working the cash register immediately turned and told a co-worker, "This is all going to be to go. Bag it all to go," Gridley said.
One young woman who Gridley said appeared to be about 16 years old tried to use the restroom, which was locked. An employee told the group it had been cleaned — about an hour and a half before closing time — and the workers weren't about to clean it again.
Gridley protested. She told the Taco Bell employee that she and her new friends were going to eat in the restaurant. And she said some of them needed to use the restroom.
After the first part of the group ordered, the employees wouldn't allow them to take their food before it was paid for.
So, Gridley put $77.05 on the plastic, and her new friends took their food and sat down at tables.
A 'nicely dressed man came in'
As a few other groups of people she brought into the restaurant also ordered food, Gridley told the Courier-Journal a "nicely dressed man came in," saw what she was doing, and gave her $10 to help.
But the feel-good vibe was short lived.
The paper said an employee announced the dining room was closed — even though it was about 7:45 p.m. and the restaurant's lobby closes at 9 p.m., the paper said.
When the nicely dressed man objected, Gridley told the Courier-Journal the worker at the register offered to take his order.
"I said, 'Stop. Nobody's ordering anything until they do,'" Gridley recounted to the paper regarding the homeless people who hadn't yet ordered.
And with that, Gridley told the Courier-Journal everyone was kicked out.
Joseph Girth — a metro columnist who wrote the Courier-Journal story — said he went to the restaurant to ask the manager what went down, but the manager she said she wasn't allowed to comment.
"And as I walked to the door, she lectured her employees, telling them that's how they should respond if the media started asking questions," Girth added in his piece.
But one Taco Bell employee who didn't want to be named did talk to the paper, Girth noted, and confirmed key parts of Gridley's account — as well as that employees are under strict orders to bar homeless people from entering the restaurant to use the restrooms.
"The managers call them 'those people,'" the Taco Bell employee told the Courier-Journal.
What did Taco Bell have to say?
The franchisee is investigating what happened and ordering employees retrained, Taco Bell's corporate public relations office in Irvine, California, told the paper.
Taco Bell added to the Courier-Journal that the company understands homelessness is an "unfortunate issue" and that the "franchisee looks forward to connecting with local organizations to see how they can help and work better together in the future."