Chilis Grill and Bar, which operates over 1200 restaurants, refuses to explain its plan to donate 10% of its sales on April 7 to the National Autism Association, a well-known anti-vaccine advocacy group.
“Right now we are coming up with what we are going to say about it,” a corporate spokesperson told AutismNewsBeat. She promised to call back when information becomes available.
The chain is owned by Brinker International, which also operates Maggiano Little Italy. Revenue for 2012 was reportedly $2.8 billion.
Chili’s, a Texas corporation, has been operating restaurants for 37 years, with locations in 31 foreign countries and two U.S. territories. According to Brinker’s 2012 annual report, average annual sales volume per Chili’s restaurant in 2012 was $3 million. Ten percent of one day’s sales, spread among 1,249 locations, could net nearly $1 million.
Chili’s largesse has not gone unnoticed. “In honor of National Autism Awareness Month, Chili’s is planning to donate 10% of customers’ checks on April 7 to the National Autism Association, a charity with controversial views about vaccinations,” notes Business Insider. “While companies are free to support organizations they wish, it’s worth noting the damage to come from lobbying by anti-vaccine groups.”
Chilis announced its “Give Back Event” in an April 2 press release that cited a “broken cheeseburger” as the inspiration for the company’s focus on autism.
The story began at a Chili’s in Midvale, Utah where a server presented a little girl with her Kid’s Cheeseburger cut in half. Unbeknownst to the server, however, Chili’s standard presentation of a sliced cheeseburger signified the burger was “broken” to the guest. The server quickly had a new dish made and while the deed was seemingly small for the restaurant team, it made a profound impact on the child and her family as she joyfully kissed the “fixed” cheeseburger.
A family member’s Facebook post thanking the restaurant for their care in the matter garnered attention from national media and thousands of Chili’s fans. Since then, the server and young girl’s friendship has continued and inspired the brand’s recent efforts to support the autism community. On Monday, April 7 as part of National Autism Awareness Month, participating Chili’s restaurants nationwide will host a Give Back Event, donating 10 percent of qualifying guest checks to the National Autism Association (NAA).
“The ‘Broken Cheeseburger’ story shines a light on the caring spirit and actions of Chili’s team members. These moments happen in our restaurants every day, at every table, at every Chili’s across the country,” said Krista Gibson, chief marketing officer for Chili’s Grill & Bar. “We are proud to support the National Autism Association while celebrating one of the brand’s favorite stories of hospitality during nationally recognized Autism Awareness Month.”
The press release further describes the NAA as “a nonprofit organization providing research funding, advocacy, support and education for the autism community with the goal of helping all affected by the neurodevelopmental disorder reach their full potential.”
Backlash against Chilis’ support of NAA clearly caught the company off guard. It took nearly 48 hours for the corporation to issue a statement explaining that “The intent of this fundraiser was not to express a view on this matter, but rather to support the families affected by autism.”
The NAA regularly invites discredited medical professionals to speak at its annual conferences, including Mr. Andrew Wakesfield, whose fraudulent 1998 Lancet article caused vaccination rates to plummet in Europe and the US. Another speaker was Dr. Anju Usman who, in 2006, referred a five-year-old autistic boy to a chelationist, Dr. Roy Kerry. The boy later died in Kerry’s care, as the boy’s mother helplessly watched.
UPDATE: Chilis released the following statement.
When choosing a charitable partner for our Give Back Events, both locally and nationally, we are committed to supporting organizations dedicated to helping children and their families. The intent of this fundraiser was not to express a view on this matter, but rather to support the families affected by autism. Our choice to partner with the National Autism Association was based on the percentage of donations that would go directly to providing financial assistance to families and supporting programs that aid the development and safety of children with autism.