Sudbury

Starbucks apologizes to Sudbury family following racist, bottle-throwing incident

A family in Sudbury says they’ve been impressed with coffee chain Starbucks’ prompt response after a barista hurled racist insults – then a pop bottle – at them while leaving the cafe.

Indian family says barista hurled racist insults following interaction in coffee shop

Ishmeet Singh and Suchita Bali stand in a driveway in the Minnow Lake neighbourhood.
Ishmeet Singh and Suchita Bali were both shocked at the racist behaviour of a Starbucks barista over the weekend. (Submitted by Ishmeet Singh and Suchita Bali)

A family in Sudbury says they've been impressed with coffee chain Starbucks' prompt response after a barista hurled racist insults – then a pop bottle – at them while leaving the cafe.

Ishmeet Singh and Suchita Bali took their daughter, 11, to a Starbucks located in a strip mall on Sudbury's busy Barrydowne Road Friday night.

Following a tense interaction with the barista over labels on the coffee cups, Singh spoke to her supervisor.

Singh documented the exchange in a Twitter thread, saying the barista muttered "a–hole" at his family.

The family then left the store, meeting up with friends in the parking lot. According to Singh, the same barista, then through her shift, left the Starbucks, hurling a pop bottle at the Singh family and striking one of the friends, yelling "pig f–-er" and a string of other slurs before driving away.

"I was borderline angry also because although the racial slur used wasn't obvious, it was ignorant because of the fact that she saw me wearing a turban and she used a very particular racial slur," Singh, who hails from Delhi, India, said.

"It wasn't towards me or my faith, but it was very racist. And the intention behind that was very hurtful."

Sudbury police confirmed they are investigating the incident, but have not been yet able to determine the motivation behind the interaction.

Suchita Bali, Singh's wife, visited the Starbucks the following day, expecting another tense interaction with the cafe manager.

Starbucks at Barrydowne Road.
Starbucks' Barrydowne Road location. (Casey Stranges/CBC)

"Going back to the physical location of the coffee shop where my family faced that harassment wasn't easy," Bali said. "I didn't know what to expect."

She was pleasantly surprised, however.

"I'm really grateful," she said. "The store manager was absolutely compassionate, kind. He was empathetic. He gave me his listening ear."

Bali, an IT professional and former communications staffer, said the Starbucks manager engaged in "meaningful dialogue" about the incident, and what the store could learn from it.

"The person involved in this incident was a young person," Bali said. "They were probably in their early twenties, or something. So we had a conversation around that."

"We also had a conversation around the importance of cultural sensitivity, training, diversity, equity, inclusion."

Bali said she wanted an official investigation into the incident, which the manager assured her had already begun.

"I also wanted a transparent answer on what kind of cultural sensitivity training do they even offer their staff members?," Bali said. "And is it mandatory? And how frequent? I want to get a little bit of an understanding, and I want to hold them accountable for it."

Although she hasn't seen a formal, written apology yet – Bali says all communications have so far been verbal – she is certain Starbucks will reach out to the family. 

Starbucks Canada spokesperson Sonja Gould said the company is planning to reach out again to the family, noting that the company built an anti-racism action plan in 2020 to hold itself accountable to be anti-racist and to support its broader efforts to advance inclusion, diversity, equity and justice. 

But the primary reason for receiving that apology, Bali said, is to provide her children with a symbol showing that corporations are held to acceptable standards.

"I do not want [my kids] to ever leave with an impression that it is okay for anyone – and by that I mean anyone – to speak to them like that, under any circumstances."

Singh said that he was fortunate to have access to social media to express his concerns and make his story known, a privilege not everyone shares.

"Some people may be not confident enough to express themselves," Singh said. "I expect this segues into a medium where there is an opportunity of education, awareness and understanding of various nuances of different cultures and religious and ethnic articles of clothing belonging to all and any faith."

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Story idea for me? casey.stranges@cbc.ca

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