TAMPA – His regular late night munchy spot in North Hyde Park called out to Larbi Tizaoui when he got off a long shift at 2 a.m. one Friday in November in search of a steak and cheese sandwich, light mayo.
He left empty handed.
Tizaoui, 28, of South Tampa says he has often bought early morning sandwiches at the 24-hour Subway restaurant inside a Radiant/BP gas station on the corner of Howard Avenue and Kennedy Boulevard.
The cab driver says he stopped there on Nov. 11 to pick up a sandwich for his wife, and a manager named “Leonard” refused to make him one. The manager said the store was closed and told Tizaoui he didn’t have to give him a reason for not serving him.
Tizaoui says he was discriminated against, because of his race, religion and origin. Tizaoui is Muslim and hails from Tunisia, although he has lived in the United States for about five years.
“I wasn’t given any good reason for being denied services,” said Tizaoui who at the time had asked the manager if he “wasn’t white enough?”
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) held a press conference Wednesday morning across the street from the Subway to highlight the incident and the complaints they have filed in an effort have the incident investigated. They’re asking for a formal apology and some agreed upon compensation for Mr. Tizaoui for his emotional distress.
“It’s shocking that in the year 2005 that these acts of discrimination continue to happen,” said Ahmed Bedier, CAIR spokesman. He said his organization has spent the last month researching and investigating the encounter.
A manager at the Subway location said he couldn’t comment about the situation. However a corporate spokesman in Milford, Conn., said Subway had received a complaint about the incident.
“At Subway, we take every customer concern seriously and are looking into the situation at this time,” spokesman Robert Wilson said.
On the night of the incident, Tizaoui’s wife, Rebecca Tizaoui, who is Caucasian and has lived in Tampa for 10 years, went back to the same Subway and was in the process of being served a sandwich when she asked about the incident.
She said the manager told her that her husband had been rude. The manager also became “defensive” and “started making excuses,” said Rebecca Tizaoui, 23. He offered to make her a free sandwich, which she refused.
“I was embarrassed and ashamed of my race,” said Rebecca Tizaoui who has been married for four years. “Racism still exists here in 2005.”
CAIR filed a complaint with the internal affairs of the Tampa Police Department, because at the time of the incident, a uniformed police officer was in line getting a sandwich and also helped the manager force Tizaoui out of the restaurant, according to letter CAIR gave to the city.
“A complaint about the incident has been made, and the department is reviewing it to determine whether there is cause for investigation,” said Tampa police spokesman Joe Durkin.