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Chic restaurant owner messes with the wrong woman

The management of the restaurant Flight has issued a apology to CNA Railroad executive Roquita Coleman, who says she was assaulted by the restaurant’s co-owner, Brian Graham, when she tried to complain to him about poor valet service.

by Tony Jones
Special to the Tri-State Defender

The management of the downtown restaurant Flight has issued a formal apology to CNA Railroad executive Roquita Coleman, who says she was assaulted by the restaurant’s co-owner, Brian Graham, when she tried to complain to him about poor valet service.

 roquita coleman
 Roquita Coleman

The incident happened in July following a business dinner hosted by Coleman, who recently was elected to the board of Memphis in May. She is president of the Memphis World Trade Club and chairperson of the Southeast Freight Conference, the logistics industry’s largest convention. More than 1,000 logistics professionals from around the world are expected for the gathering, which convenes in Memphis in October.

Coleman sees the incident that triggered the apology as an illustration of an ugly behind the scenes double standard that still applies to African Americans and women.

“We’ve worked it all out now, but the only reason they did is because I was able to hire an attorney and they found out that I could cost them a loss of business because of the work I do in my professional capacity,” said Coleman.

“They tried to ignore me, but I wouldn’t let them.”

In addition to the apology, the Flight Restaurant management – principal owner Tom Powers and Graham – upon the instigation of Coleman’s attorney, Cannon Allen, moved to be a sponsor of the logistics conference she is spearheading, Coleman said.

The narrative of the July 21 police report said officers responded to a “Simple Assault” at 8:35 p.m. at the Flight Restaurant, where they encountered Coleman, who told them that she left the restaurant after entertaining clients and paying a bill that exceeded $200.

According to the report, Coleman got into her vehicle – a rental car – and noticed a large amount of water on her seat as she sat down. She then noticed that the restaurant valet parking attendant had apparently left down her driver’s side window. Back in the restaurant, she asked to speak with the manager/ owner, Graham, and asked what could be done about her car and her soaked clothes.

Reading like a scene from a training film about how not to treat a customer, here’s the next segment of the police report:

 “(The) victim advised that the suspect responded with anger telling her the valet parking attendant was not employed by him, he didn’t have time to deal with her and she had to leave immediately, the suspect then forcefully grabbed the victim lifting her off the ground and threw her out of the restaurant.”

The responding officers talked to Graham, who acknowledged that Coleman came into the restaurant with a complaint. He told them he was too busy to deal with the issue. Coleman got loud, according to Graham, who told police that he “grabbed her like security would do in any bar or nightclub” and removed her from the restaurant.

Two witnesses gave unsolicited statements that they saw Graham and Coleman in a verbal dispute when Graham “forcefully grabbed the victim and threw her out of the restaurant.

Coleman complained to police of a sore arm, but had no visible scars, bruises or injuries and refused medical treatment.

Talking with the Tri-State Defender about the incident, Coleman said Graham even went inside to get the check from her dinner, showing it to police to justify his claim that she (had been drinking) and was out of control.  

“As a female executive I am very careful. I never have more than a couple of ounces of wine with a meal, and definitely never when having a meeting or dinner with male executives. Over the years I’ve learned that as long as they don’t witness you drinking they don’t get too casual,” said Coleman. “It is a matter of business as well as a safety manner....I did this that evening at Flight.”

Until the encounter with Graham, Flight had become Coleman’s favorite downtown restaurant. She frequented often due to the perks of her job and civic interests, as well as just for fun.  After the long business dinner, her co-worker left with their guest for an after dinner jaunt. Seeing the condition of her car and dress, and primarily concerned about any lingering smell in the rental car, Coleman went back to the restaurant.

“He put me off several times because he was busy. ‘I’m not in charge of the valets,’ he said in a very rude manner. I’m not the most patient person in the world, plus I’m tired and wet. I waited about five more minutes and then asked for a business card. He said ‘no,’ real nasty, which was really a shock to me. They keep cards on a table when you walk in, so I asked for a comment card. I just wanted him know that this was still unresolved.  He said no again.  He told me ‘I’m the owner, we’re done talking about this and at this point you’re trespassing.”

Coleman was outdone at that point.

“His reaction just left me standing there blinking. He went on doing other things, then turns around back to me and said, ‘ma’am if you don’t leave right now I am going to physically remove you.’

“I told him I wish the f—- you would! I’m thinking, ‘this man has physically threatened me.’ Before that could even sink in, he grabbed me by both of my arms, picked me up and pushed me through the door. It’s a twilight zone moment now, but I remember my feet physically leaving the ground.”

Flight can easily be described as the hottest spot downtown. Limos and livery service cars commonly clog Monroe on weekends as the city’s glamour grabbers pour in and out of its entrance.

“Thirty minutes before I departed, I updated my Facebook post, where 700 of my close friends and colleagues heard my praises of how Flight is one of my favorite spots in Memphis,” said Coleman, offering that the situation could have easily been resolved at the time with an apology and an offer to dry clean her skirt, which she would have kindly declined.

“While I have fairly thick skin due to my industry and the responsibility I have in it, I can say this was one of the most challenging experiences I have had in some time and it certainly caught me off guard,” she said.

Christina Rosenthal, one of the two witnesses (neither acquainted with Coleman), said, “It sickened me….My friends and I left immediately. I’m not sure if I will ever go back there again.”

Coleman later emailed the City Council and the County Commission. Like many restaurants downtown, Flight received municipal support that allows its valets to use public parking on the street for its customers, a posture now being changed.

According to police records, Graham’s previous run-ins with law enforcement include a DUI arrest; an intimidation charge filed against him for threatening to cut the brake lines of a woman he was involved with; and a simple assault charge for striking another woman several times across the face during an argument.

Several requests by email for a response from Flight’s management team were never answered. The TSD also visited the restaurant at least three times.

“Why would you ever put such a person in charge of dealing with the public, owner or not?” Coleman wonders.

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