Brenda Carrillo wasn’t sure she’d heard the waiter right.
She and a friend had just been seated and were waiting for two others on the outdoor patio of Saint Marc, an upscale eatery in Huntington Beach, when he posed the question.
“Can I see your proof of residency?” the waiter asked.
Her friend repeated the question in disbelief, Carrillo recalled, and the waiter replied, “I need to make sure you’re from here before I serve you.”
The two women sat in stunned silence. “It was kind of hard to process because we’ve never experienced this,” said Carrillo, 23, who lives in Santa Ana and works for an organization that provides social services to families and youth.
Moments later, Carrillo’s sister, Diana, and another friend joined them and were asked the same question. The four women spoke to the manager, who apologized and offered to re-seat them, but they declined and left.
At first the friends thought the waiter might be joking. “But he didn’t have a smile,” said Diana Carrillo, 24, who works for a mortgage broker company. “There was no indication that he was trying to make a joke or even possibly flirt with us.”
Diana Carrillo said the encounter left all of them shaken. “I’ve never felt so judged in my life…. It sends a chill through your entire body.”
Hours later, still seething, Diana decided to post about their encounter on Facebook and Yelp. Within hours, more than a dozen people had responded to her post on Facebook and left negative reviews on Yelp.
After Diana’s posts, restaurant management reached out to her to apologize. Statements on Facebook and Instagram, which have since been deleted, said the waiter had been fired and that “this type of behavior… will not be tolerated.”
In a separate statement sent to The Times, restaurant management said the waiter’s actions were “in no way…representative” of the restaurant’s employees or management. “We have always celebrated being part of the diverse Huntington Beach community, which means valuing all guests and treating every individual with respect,” the statement read.
Kent Bearden, senior director of operations for Saint Marc, said the restaurant had never encountered similar problems with the waiter, who he said was “not a new hire.”
When Diana Carrillo told her mother about the incident, she said, “My mom lost it.”
“I was angry. I was sad,” Guillermina Carrillo said by phone Saturday. “It’s unacceptable. It’s something that shouldn’t have happened, not anywhere, not to nobody.”
Carrillo, 52, came to the United States from Mexico more than 30 years ago. She’s been a citizen for nearly two decades, juggling two jobs while raising her four daughters alone.
She works as a security guard at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, where she’s been employed for more than 20 years, and has a second job pressing clothing at a manufacturer for an upscale women’s clothing brand. She says she works more than 12 hours a day, six days a week.
“I raised my kids and taught them how to work, how to be a good person…. I’ve been working hard all these years,” the elder Carrillo said, before choking up and excusing herself.
Brenda describes herself and her sister as “light-skinned Latinas” and knows they don’t encounter as much racism as others in their community. “For it to happen to us, it was kind of an eye-opener,” she said. “It just makes me think, when I go to the store, do people think less of me?”
She says she isn’t so worried about herself or her sister, who were born and raised in California.
“I’m more afraid for others in my community, people who are immigrants. If this were to happen to them, I’m sure they would be too afraid to speak out for themselves,” Brenda said.
Meanwhile, Bearden, of Saint Marc, said the restaurant offered to host Brenda Carrillo and her friends as “VIP guests” this weekend and to donate 10% of the weekend’s sales to a nonprofit of their choice.
The friends declined, but asked that the restaurant donate the share of proceeds to the Orange County Immigrant Youth United, a Santa Ana-based organization that advocates for immigrants living in the country illegally.
Bearden says the restaurant will honor the women’s request, and added that the apology posts were deleted because “the circumstances have moved on” and been resolved internally.
But Brenda and Diana Carrillo say they’re disappointed that the restaurant scrubbed the apologies from their social media accounts.
“To us, that makes us feel like they weren’t really sorry,” Brenda said.