17-year-old Sanai Butler was ready to celebrate her high school graduation with tons of her family and friends at Lula Restaurant Distillery in New Orleans. And she did just that; she and her large group were said to have dropped close to $2,000 salute the young woman's completion of her courses at Warren Easton Charter school.
That is, until Sanai went to go and visit the bathroom and reportedly had an encounter with the owner of the restaurant's wife. According to the teen's mother, the young girl was approached by the woman and told that her outfit was "very inappropriate" and she was asked to leave the establishment.
Photos of Sanai's graduation outfit show that she was wearing a matching Bikini top and pants. In an interview with WDSU, Sanai's mother, La Shawn Butler said, "You were here when we walked in. If there was anything wrong with what she had on, you should have said something at that time. Not after we had spent well over $2,000 at your establishment. This is when she called the police."
Another restaurant visitor who claims to have seen interactions between restaurant management and Sanai's party says that the Lula Distillery was putting out "big racist energy" after they called the police on the teen's group.
Candice Wright, a vocal Black Lives Matter supporter based out of New Orleans, shared the sequence of events from her perspective in a Twitter thread:
"We saw two cop cars pull up with lights on and the officers came out & the owner of Lula came outside and was talking to the officer. One of the adults was talking to the other officer."
She continued, "The rest of the family came out. They were videoing. The owner of Lula called the cops on a teenager because she felt she wasn’t dressed appropriately. Now they had been in the restaurant for at least two hours before this happened. What was the issue?!?!?"
The restaurant released a statement that they didn't call the police because of Sanai's clothing. Lula's distillery also doesn't list a dress code on its website, either and the business insists not a single person was asked to leave the premises because of the clothes that they were or weren't wearing.
"The police were called after three disruptive, adult patrons engaged with another table of patrons, and one of the female owners of Lula. No person or group was escorted off of the property. There were no physical altercations," the statement reads.
Police did tell WDSU that they responded to a disturbance call at Lula Distillery, however, they didn't name any of the party members involved in the incident nor did they supply a report of the night's events to the outlet.
Sanai went on to say that the evening was a "horrible and sad experience" when speaking with NOLA.
Several of her friends and family members hopped on social media to not only express their disappointment with the reports of what occurred at Lula Distillery but also praise Shanai's "humble" and "shy" demeanor.
Tamika Butler-Boutte gave a detailed breakdown of what occurred in a Facebook post. According to Tamika, her own daughter accompanied Shanai (her niece) to the restroom.
"Reservations were made by her Mom (my Sister) and Sanai walked into the establishment with the outfit in question on (we tried several other establishments that could NOT accommodate such a large party). No question, conversation or refusal from anyone!! It was not until after we ate, had celebratory shots with the entire restaurant, began paying our bills including blessing our wait staff and accepting words of encouragement from everyone there for the grad that a so call 'Problem' arose."
"Sanai & a few of her cousins went to the restroom and were 'FOLLOWED' in there by the owners wife (Karen) who approached them with questions about her shirt. My oldest daughter was inside the restroom & asked the owners wife (Karen) why was that any of her business to question a CHILD about her attire (for those of you that know my oldest daughter knows that she can clearly pass for a teenager). My daughter exited the restroom & came to us to let us know what was going on. In the meantime, the owners wife (Karen) was talking to my sister about how she felt about my nieces top then proceeded to get the company phone & apparently called the police."
Tamika went on to say that no one from their party knew that they were speaking to the owner's wife until a member of the restaurant's wait staff informed them as such.
In addition to the messages of support for Sanai and her family, several other individuals pointed out the "double standard" of attire and celebratory at Lula Distillery by posting photos of other gatherings online.
It appears that the Bagneris Law Firm is in talks with Sanai's family to make a discrimination and wrongful treatment case against Lula Distillery. Suzette Peychaud Bagneris posted on Facebook: "The Bagneris Firm is proud to represent Ms. Sanai Butler and her family in connection with the incident that occurred at Lula’s Restaurant. The worth of a woman is not determined by what she wears. It is wrong to use white privilege to weaponize the police against African Americans for a perceived dress code violation. This has been a traumatizing event for this family. We will demand justice."
Lula Distillery maintains that the police were called to address and altercation between patrons and staff at the restaurant and that they were only notifying the authorities to ensure the "safety" of their customers.
"We would like to apologize to all of our patrons who were dining with us at the time, our longtime customers, and particularly to any person who feels that Lula discriminated against them based on their attire or race."
The establishment went on to say that they are investigating the incident further to see if it could've been handled any differently: "We are working with our team, including management and ownership, to determine what should have been done differently and to ensure an enjoyable restaurant and dining environment for everyone."
As of now, there haven't been any videos of the incident shared online, we will update this story with new information as it is made available.