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Details continue to emerge in Starbucks flap over alleged use of racial slur

Details continue to emerge in Starbucks flap over alleged use of racial slur
This La Cañada Flintridge Starbucks found itself in the center of attention after social media posts claimed an employee had put a racial slur on an order. (Raul Roa / La Cañada Valley Sun)

La Cañada Flintridge recently found itself in the center of a media maelstrom, after posts on Twitter and Facebook claimed a Starbucks employee handed a Latino customer beverages labeled with a racial slur where the man's name should have been.

According to reports, the man received a drink order at the Starbucks on Foothill Boulevard Tuesday morning and eventually saw the computerized label bore the name "Beaner," a derogatory term used against Latinos.

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Precise details were not made public by reliable sources, but a sheriff's report for a possibly related incident of graffiti that occurred late Tuesday or early Wednesday — involving someone writing "BNR" on the window of the coffee shop in a white polish — included an interview with the employee. The report stated:

"When asked by the employee for his name, the customer provided what the employee heard was the name [Beaner]. The employee double-checked with the customer to make sure she heard his name correctly … The employee told me she had heard many customers provide nicknames in the past few years. The employee typed in the provided name. The customer received his drinks and left the store with no incident."

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Starbucks officials said apologies had been offered to the customer but have remained tight-lipped about the circumstances surrounding the event.

News outlets converged upon the Starbucks at 475 Foothill Blvd. late Wednesday and again Thursday to get more information on a man known variously as Pedro or Peter and the barista who put the name on the cup.

Store management referred all media requests to the company's corporate office in Seattle. A manager at Los Gringos Locos, where the Starbucks customer reportedly worked, confirmed last Thursday a man named Peter worked there as a cook but declined to comment further or give his own name, saying the media attention had become disruptive to business.

In addition to the incident of graffiti, the La Cañada Starbucks store was reportedly among multiple businesses that received phoned-in bomb threats Friday.

Lt. DeMarcus Smith, a watch commander for the Crescenta Valley Sheriff's Station, was not forthcoming about possible threats made Friday, but did confirm that the station received a call from Petco employees at around 5:45 p.m. and went to the scene to investigate further.

Starbucks' corporate office in Seattle was not able to confirm the racial slur event occurred exactly as it was described in social media accounts, but company spokeswoman confirmed members of the Starbucks' leadership team met with the customer at a local store that morning, and that "he accepted our apology."

"This kind of mistake is unacceptable, and we will take additional steps to assess what happened here and how our partners can be better," the spokeswoman said on May 17.

Although Pedro/Peter stopped speaking with journalists shortly after the incident, he told a reporter with the Los Angeles Daily News last week he'd met with representatives from the coffee chain.

"It's not good what they did, but they have spoken with me," he said in Spanish, declining further comment.

The Starbucks spokeswoman verified computerized labels are placed on food and beverage items requiring service or assistance beyond the point of purchase, but gave no information on whether the company had spoken with store employees or learned more about how the incident occurred.

"We're looking into how we can help our partners be better in situations like this," she added.

The alleged La Cañada incident comes as the Seattle-based coffee company prepares to close 8,000 U.S. stores to conduct racial-bias education seminars following a video that went viral last month showing a Philadelphia Starbucks employee calling the police to report two black men who sat at a table without ordering anything.

That training is scheduled to take place May 29.

Twitter: @SaraCardine

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