A Brentwood restaurant has apologized after recently turning away a customer confined to a wheelchair.
Teal Sherer and her husband, Ali Alsaleh, stopped for lunch at Mediterranean Cuisine in Brentwood last Wednesday.
Almost immediately, Sherer said two workers approached her and told her to take her service dog, Bre, outside.
“The guy rushed out from behind the counter. The guy serving food rushed to us,” Sherer said. “And were like, 'You can't be in here with that dog. You have to be out of here.'”
When Sherer, who is confined to a wheelchair, tried to point out Bre's service patches, she said the workers told her, “No, no, she has to get out!”
“Honestly, my blood was boiling,” Alsaleh admitted. “It wasn't so much that somebody had a problem with our dog. It was we were pointing at the patches on her vest. We were trying to calmly explain it to them, and they just wanted nothing to do with it.”
Sherer has used a wheelchair since the age of 14 when a motor vehicle crash broke her back.
“I was humiliated and embarrassed, and just felt so discriminated against that we just wanted to get out of there. So we left,” she said, adding, “[But] she was, by law, legally allowed to be in there.”
Nashville's News 2 confirmed that a mother and son who were in line behind Sherer also left the restaurant when workers forced the dog out.
Following the incident, Sherer and Alsaleh posted a restaurant review on Yelp, a site dedicated to user reviews of restaurants, retail, and entertainment; but friends of the couple encouraged them to do more.
Sherer and Alsaleh decided to file a formal complaint through the U.S. Department of Justice for violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The review on Yelp also generated angry calls to the restaurant from customers who said they would not return.
One of the employees who told Sherer her dog would have to leave said it was a mistake on his part.
Elari Sami said he thought allowing the dog to remain in the dining room would violate health department regulations.
“I told them you can sit outside with the dog and we are going to bring your food outside,” Sami said. “But I didn't understand what a service dog means.”
According to the ADA, a service animal is a dog trained to assist a person with a disability. The act also states a service animal with a disabled person cannot be denied access to any public space, with few exceptions.
“Any service dog is allowed to come in,” Sami said. “I just misunderstood and now we know the service dog is allowed.”
Nashville's News 2 also spoke to Saad Saad who owns the Brentwood restaurant. He is currently in Egypt and left town before the incident.
He told us by phone that he was troubled by the incident and offered his apologies to Sherer.
He said he would like her to return to the restaurant with her service dog for a complimentary meal.
Sherer said she received an e-mail from a representative of Saad who expressed the owner's apologies.
“It was nice to have contact from his friend on his behalf,” Sherer said. “In the e-mail he said he doesn't want me to think he is a villain and I don't.”
She continued, “To me this was all about education.”
In the last year, Sherer released her own web series, My Gimpy Life, to sort of poke fun and draw attention to some of her everyday challenges.
In real life, Sherer has been able to overcome some of those challenges with Bre, her first service dog.
She described the 19-month-old German shepherd as well-behaved and always by her side.
She also told Nashville's News 2 she has never experienced anything like what happened last week.
While Sherer is disheartened by the actions of two restaurant workers, she's also hopeful.
“I think the awareness that this will bring, hopefully, will prevent this from happening again,” she said.
Sami said he has learned from the incident and hopes to one day make things right with Sherer and her husband.
“We have a relationship with all of our customers,” he said. “We need her to come back and we want to make her happy.”
Sherer accepted the apology of the restaurant's owner and employee.
“I have no bad feelings toward the restaurant at all,” she said. “I wish them nothing but the best. I just hope it is something that they learn from.”
Sherer also said she plans to withdraw the complaint they filed with the Justice Department in light of how the restaurant responded.
A representative of the owner said they are working on organizing a training session to educate all of the restaurant's employees about the regulations of the Americans with Disabilities Act.