Mother says Panera employee told her to take off toddler's orthopedic shoes

Mother says Panera employee told her to take off toddler's orthopedic shoes

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - It's a story that turns the phrase "no shoes, no service" on its head.

A Savannah woman said an assistant manager at the Panera Bread on Savannah's Abercorn Street asked her to remove her two-year-old daughter's squeaky orthopedic shoes because they were "bothering someone."

Catherine Duke says without those shoes, her daughter Emma, who has a developmental disorder, can't walk correctly.

"It's a requirement by her, her doctor," Duke said.

She said she told the assistant manager that but that she didn't seem to care.

"We weren't welcome with the shoes. It was very blatant."

Emma just learned to walk. Her family credits the shoes.

For more than a year, Duke have been back and forth to doctors across the country trying to figure out what's wrong with Emma. They still don't have a firm diagnosis.

Catherine Duke says Panera was her respite from all that, where she goes to unwind, until she was approached Thursday about Emma's shoes.

"It was very hurtful, and I left the store crying, not a very good thing for a mom to feel like her child is being discriminated against," she said.

WTOC reached out to Panera several times Thursday night and Friday, both to the corporate office and the Abercorn Street store.

The corporate office didn't respond.

The general manager of the Abercorn Street Panera, that assistant manager's boss, said he's been in contact with the Dukes and that beyond that, he has no comment.

Catherine Duke says she's been told Panera is looking into the issue.

A fund has been set up to help the Duke family with Emma's medical expenses. Donations can be made at any Navy Federal Credit Union to the Emma Duke fund in Savannah. Be sure to specify you want to donate to the Savannah fund.

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