He wanted to grab a meal at one of his favourite Texas burger joints, but what he got was a sick joke about one of the darkest days in U.S. history.
Tarek Ghalayani said he went to Petrol Station, a Houston, Texas, bar on Sunday with a friend to watch the Dallas Cowboys-New York Giants game. But when they decided to watch the second half at home, he ordered a burger to go, and was shocked by what came out of the kitchen. Scrawled on the to-go box was a message that read “Happy September 11th” with a plane flying into two towers.
Mr Ghalayani, a Muslim, said he was working near the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11, 2001, and found the image disturbing. He told ABC 13: “It’s a sad day in this country’s history, where we lost 3,000 innocent lives and I don’t ever think there’s ever going to be a time when that’s OK.”
Mr Ghalayani said he demanded a refund, which he got from the manager – but without an apology or explanation. He also said he could hear someone behind the bar repeating “Allahu Akbar”, an Arabic phrase meaning “God is great”, that has also been heard by Islamic extremists in several terror attacks, including the crash of United Flight 93 outside Shanksville, Pennsylvania on 9/11.
Struck by the eatery’s actions, Mr Ghalayani went home and wrote about his experience on the popular review site Yelp.com. He wrote:
“Within earshot, [the bartender] called my friend and I ‘a**holes’ for complaining about what he clearly thought was funny. Go there if you want a good burger – but know that you’re dealing with people who have no regard for you or what it means to be in this country. Some things are still sacred – and making light of the day that 3,000 innocent people lost their lives and being unapologetic about it is, in my view, a bit much.”
The review sparked a firestorm on social networking sites like Twitter, where it reached the bar’s owner, Ben Fullelove, who said he was not at the bar at the time of the incident. On Monday, the restaurant tweeted: “I am really sorry. Please don’t let this idiot be a reflection of Petrol.”
By that afternoon, the bartender responsible was fired. Mr Fullelove told ABC 13: “I just don’t understand how somebody could think that’s a joke. I mean, it’s not a joke. It’s not how I run my business.”
Later, Mr Fullelove met with Mr Ghalayani personally, and formally apologized, prompting Ghalayani to update his Yelp post. He wrote: “I wanted to update this – I was able to speak to the owner and have a good conversation about my experience at Petrol. He sounded sincere and I appreciated his swift response once he was notified of the issues by the local community.”
Mr Fullelove said his employees would be receiving sensitivity training as a result of the incident.