Philadelphia Starbucks in ‘Isis’ Flap Over Man’s Islamic Name

A Starbucks customer in Philadelphia accuses the coffee chain of discrimination for referring to him as Isis.
Photo: AP

You would think that Starbucks would have its @#$% together by now.

Or at least its staffers.

But not so much.

Earlier this week, Niquel Johnson said he visited a Philadelphia outpost of the coffee chain—one he’s frequented before—and after using his name when placing his order, he was treated like he should be on the No Fly List.

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According to the Washington Post, Johnson used his Islamic name “Aziz” but ended up being referred to as “ISIS”—the acronym used by the notorious extremist terrorist organization.

“I was shocked and angry. I felt it was discrimination,” he told WaPo on Friday.

Johnson, 40, said he’s been using the Muslim moniker which means “powerful, respected and beloved” in Arabic, for 25 years.

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But a brisk moving barista may have had something else in mind.

Not only did the Starbucks staffer get his name wrong—which he discovered days later after a friend pointed it out to him—reps for the caffeinated-powered coffee giant got caught with their pants down with a “he-said, she said” scenario that has eyebrows being raised about racial sensitivity.

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Once the Aziz/ISIS story sparked up on social media after a reporter tweeted about it, Starbucks tried to do minor damage control saying they apologized to Johnson’s niece, Alora.

Only thing is: Johnson said he has no niece named that and claims to not know anyone named Alora.

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And the story changed from a niece to a mysterious uncle.

Starbucks appeared to have been talking to everyone except Johnson, who said he filed his complaint through the company’s website and used his actual name and contact information.

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When called out about the mysterious people Starbucks allegedly apologized to, a rep told Johnson it was a mix-up but did apologize.

Johnson, who recorded the Thursday evening telephone conversation, told Starbucks’ Brian Dragone:

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“No, this can’t be resolved by a simple apology at this point. I feel as though I was discriminated against, and there’s no apology that can simply be an apology at this point.”

Johnson was hoping the otherwise politically correct leaning powerhouse would be more deliberate and careful after last year’s messy racially charged debacle where two black men in a Philadelphia Starbucks were arrested for simply sitting while waiting for a business associate.

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That particular incident shined a bad light on the popular coffee chain and prompted a public apology from its CEO Kevin Johnson, and led to a national staff training on unconscious bias at its 8,000 stores.

“I feel like they’re not taking it seriously as it is,” Johnson said. “You think they would have their facts in order. How could they allow anyone to speak for me?”

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About Johnson’s incident, Starbucks spokesman Reggie Borges downplayed any bias.

“After investigating, we don’t believe this was a case of discrimination or profiling,” he said in a statement. “The customer approached and provided the name Aziz. The barista mistakenly spelled it incorrectly. We have connected with Mr. Johnson and apologized for this regrettable mistake.”

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Correction: Saturday, 8/31/19, 3:45 p.m. EST: An earlier version of this story referred to ISIS as the organization that targeted the World Trade Center in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. We regret the error.

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About the author

Karu F. Daniels

Hailing from "the thorough borough" of Brooklyn, Mr. Daniels has written for The New York Times, Associated Press, CNN, Essence, VIBE, NBC News, The Daily Beast, The New York Daily News and Word Up!