Workers at Hooters-style restaurant strike, protesting racist sexist manager
This story originally appeared in Labor Notes on Jan. 24, 2023. It is shared here with permission.
Latino immigrant kitchen workers and a group of racially diverse women servers walked out at the Twin Peaks restaurant in Brentwood, Tennessee, on Saturday, Jan. 14. They say their employer is serving up of a toxic brew of racism and sexism.
“We went on strike to fire a manager because he is mistreating my co-workers verbally and physically,” Juan Carlos Mendoza, a barback with six years at the restaurant, told the Spanish-language news channel Nashville Noticias. “The manager is a racist… and that’s why we raised our voices.”
Eighteen workers walked out, accusing general manager Andrew “Hunter” Kirkpatrick of racist and abusive behavior, including throwing away their lunches, berating them for speaking Spanish, and threatening to call the police on them. The kitchen workers are indigenous people from Mexico and Guatemala.
Servers Join Strike
The following Monday, 21 kitchen workers picketed the restaurant—now joined on an open-ended strike by 10 servers.
“I couldn’t stand by and keep working for someone abusive,” said one Black waitress who joined the picket line and asked to be anonymous for fear of retaliation. “We would frequently have days where [Kirkpatrick] berated multiple front-of-the-house staff so harshly that they were moved to tears.”
Twin Peaks was founded in Dallas, Texas, in 2005; it has four locations in Tennessee and 100 around the U.S. and Mexico. Brentwood is near Nashville.
Cecilia Prado, director of the Nashville worker center Workers’ Dignity, described it as “basically a Hooters but more objectifying.” Wait staff wear a uniform of cropped shorts and revealing tops, and the restaurant also holds “lingerie days” dictating what servers wear and intensifying the pressure to look a certain way.
As the workers have come together across race, ethnicity, gender, and job, their list of demands has expanded.
They all want Kirkpatrick gone. Both groups say management is stealing their tips and failing to pay overtime. The servers said they noticed reductions in their take-home tips since Kirkpatrick’s arrival.
The waitresses also want safety training to handle aggressive customers, and a security guard to walk them out to their cars. Other Twin Peaks locations have security guards.
The kitchen workers are demanding the reinstatement of an unjustly fired co-worker, and the right to eat lunch.
Ricardo Juarez, a cook who has worked at the restaurant for eight years, said that Kirkpatrick “began banning the afternoon shift from eating lunch until 10 p.m., once the restaurant wasn’t as busy.” He then threw out two workers’ food, smacking a cup of water out of another worker’s hand, Juarez said.
In one incident the manager called a kitchen worker “stupid” and shoved him for not understanding a ticket order, recalled Patricia Mendoza, a barback who has worked at Twin Peaks Brentwood for 10 years.
These abusive incidents touched off the organizing. “I began talking with my co-workers that we needed to do something,” said Juarez. They marched to the bosses’ office and met with one of the co-owners of the franchise, Daniel Pierce, asking him to fire Kirkpatrick, and telling him if he didn’t meet their demands on the spot, they were going on strike.
Pierce shrugged it off. “We don’t matter to him,” Juarez thought after the meeting. Soon after, they walked out, forcing the restaurant to close early on a busy Saturday.
Competition Breaks Down
Elise Reilly started working at the restaurant last November, alternating between hostess and server roles. At first everything went swimmingly. “Within my first day of training, [Kirkpatrick] told me… that I had a very bright future ahead of me,” said Reilly.
But the praise didn’t last long. “I mentioned something to him about wanting to make sure that the front of house was uniting with each other instead of competing against each other, which I saw the girls doing a lot.” That’s when he turned against her, Reilly said.
For wait staff, competition is baked into their earning potential. The servers, all women, are ranked by Kirkpatrick based on their appearance, including makeup, hairstyle, and nails. Higher-ranked servers get to pick restaurant sections and schedules that maximize tips.
Racism affects the rankings, according to Reilly, especially on lingerie days. “There will be so many women who come in with the most gorgeous hair, the most gorgeous makeup, and they somehow ended up at the very bottom of the ranking list for no other reason than they’re not a blonde or a white girl,” said Reilly.
Waitresses have reported customers for sexually harassing them, including grabbing their genitals. But management blames the worker: “Maybe if you weren’t so flirty.” One server said Kirkpatrick told her to expect harassment, likening customers to kids who are taken to a candy shop but told they “can’t have anything.”
Although dealing with aggressive customers is part of the job, Reilly said the biggest problem at Twin Peaks is with management. She doesn’t accept the “common narrative that men who attend these kinds of bars are creeps.” She said she has experienced harassment whether “I was working one of the lingerie days at Twin Peaks or if I was outside wearing super baggy pajamas that didn’t show any part of my figure.”
We never really made eye contact with back of the house until all this [the strike] happened,” Reilly said. “When we found out back of the house was on strike, everyone in the front of house was communicating with each other saying, ‘Oh my gosh, we’ve been experiencing the same thing.’
“Because back of the house was brave enough to stand up, it opened up this opportunity for all of us to share our stories and to unite.”
Management deliberately divided the two groups of workers, preventing them from talking among themselves and to each other even when the restaurant wasn’t busy, said Reilly.
Twin Peaks Brentwood owners Gary Cassatelli and Daniel Pierce didn’t respond to multiple phone calls seeking comment.
The strikers are still hashing out next steps and a growing list of demands. But they are clear that unity across jobs is essential to their fight from now on.
“We’re not fighting for just one position at the restaurant,” said Reilly. “We’re fighting for everyone in there; everyone that’s been there; everyone that’s yet to come—and making sure that all of us have a happy and safe experience, because that is not what’s been happening lately.”
You can contribute to the strikers’ fundraising drive here.