Utah-based restaurant chain Winger’s Roadhouse Grill has agreed to sponsor a Boy Scouts event in Salt Lake City after Chipotle Mexican Grill pulled its support this week due to the youth group’s anti-gay stance.
After sponsoring the annual Scout-O-Rama in Utah for several years, Chipotle withdrew its commitment of about $4,200 in coupons and vouchers Monday. This year’s event is scheduled for May 4 and is expected to draw up to 15,000 Scouts, parents and others. Chipotle officials reportedly made the decision because they said support of the event would violate the company’s anti-discrimination policies, which prohibit support for organizations that exclude others based on sexual orientation.
However, 34-unit Winger’s said Friday it would also sponsor the Utah Pride Center’s Queer Prom in April, an annual event for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, or LGBT, youths and their supporters.
Based in Salt Lake City, Winger’s is a casual-dining brand owned by Winger’s USA, a sister company to Slaymaker Inc., franchise operator of the T.G.I. Friday’s brand in the region.
Curt Gray, Winger’s president and chief executive, said the company’s founder Scott Slaymaker has been involved with the Boy Scouts for years. “We believe in the scouting program and believe it offers life skills to people.”
The decision to support both the Scout-O-Rama and the Queer Prom was “simply the right thing to do,” said Gray. “We believe most of all in non-prejudice and non-discrimination,” he said. “We’re not trying to take a huge political stand here, but we tell this to our staff often and we thought we should put our money where our mouth is.”
Winger’s support for the Queer Prom totals about $1,250 in cash, said Valerie Larabee, Utah Pride Center’s executive director.
The Boy Scouts of America’s national executive board is considering a proposal to move away from its ban of openly gay scouts and troop leaders. The board was expected to vote on the issue in January, but they delayed making the decision until May, saying they needed more time to get input from members.
Meanwhile, Utah’s Scout-O-Rama has not been hampered by Chipotle’s decision to terminate its support, said David McCammon, director of programming and marketing for the Boy Scouts’ Great Salt Lake Council, one of the nation’s largest councils and host of the annual Scout-O-Rama.
Two days after Chipotle dropped out, local wings-and-ribs chain Winger’s stepped in, offering to fulfill Chipotle’s commitment, which included coupon prizes for kids’ meals that will be given out during the event, as well as vouchers for adult volunteers, McCammon said.
“Winger’s Roadhouse Grill is committed to making our communities a better place to live and work. We recognize and appreciate the diversity that exists in our communities, and believe that diversity, and the acceptance of diversity, is what makes us great,” Gray said in a statement.
Utah Pride Center’s Larabee said she welcomed the contribution, saying the negotiations about the sponsorship over the past two days have raised the level of awareness and understanding about LGBT issues. “It’s youths we want to support. And there are gay youths everywhere,” she said. “I hope this encourages other companies to step out.”
Winger’s wasn’t the only restaurant company to step in for the Utah scouts this week. McCammon said Madeline’s Steakhouse & Grill has also offered meal vouchers. In addition, the event has long been supported by the buffet concept Chuck-A-Rama, among other non-restaurant sponsors.
“Our sponsorship will now be above our goal with the recent support,” said McCammon. “We think it will be a great event.”
Another restaurant company also addressed gay rights issues this week. On Wednesday, Starbucks Corp. chair, president and chief executive Howard Schultz defended the company’s position in support of same-sex marriage at the Seattle-based coffeehouse chain’s annual shareholder meeting.
Shareholder Tom Strobhar, founder of the anti-gay-marriage Corporate Morality Action Center, suggested that the position was bad for business, referring to the National Organization for Marriage’s boycott of Starbucks.
In a response recorded by National Public Radio affiliate KPLU in Seattle, Schultz told the shareholder, “If you feel, respectfully, that you can get a higher return than the 38 percent you got last year, it’s a free country. You can sell your shares of Starbucks and buy shares in another company.”