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GILBERT, AZ - Update (3/28/17): Dierks Whiskey Row and Riot Hospitality Group will make a $10,000 donation to Heal The Hero, a veteran-assistance organization. The restaurant group was initially going to make a donation to Wounded Warrior Project, but changed their minds.
Update (3/22/17): A spokesperson confirmed to ABC15 that Dierks Whiskey Row and Riot Hospitality Group have updated its tattoo policy. Guests with neck tattoos will not be denied entry. Read more.
Days after celebrating its grand opening in downtown Gilbert, Dierks Bentley's Whiskey Row issued a public apology on its Facebook page after staff turned a customer away because of his neck tattoo.
"It is most unfortunate that on the heels of the grand opening of our newest Whiskey Row location that we failed to welcome one of our most loyal and celebrated patrons: a military veteran," the post read.
Last week, the East Valley Tribune reported that Brandon Andrus, a military veteran who did two tours in Iraq,was denied entrance into Dierks Whiskey Row because of his neck tattoo.
Andrus' tattoo is of the number '22.' He told the East Valley Tribune that it represent the number of military veterans that die by suicide each day.
Robyn Moore, a spokesperson for Riot Hospitality Group, which owns Whiskey Row, told ABC15 Saturday evening via email that Andrus was not denied entrance because of what his tattoo represented, but because he had one.
It was the result of a blanket company policy implemented in 2010 that bars people with neck and face tattoos, she said.
"The misunderstanding was that he was turned away because of this policy. Everyone is claiming that he was turned away because [of] his military title, which is false. He had a neck tattoo, plain and simple," she said in an email.
Moore added that at the time staff did not know what the tattoo meant nor that he was a veteran.
Despite the policy, Whiskey Row admitted "we let one of our most cherished guests down."
As a result, people have taken to the restaurant's Facebook pages (each location has its own page) with comments, some vowing not to return.
Restaurant officials reached out to the veteran to apologize and invite him back to the restaurant, said Moore. She said "they appreciated our outreach, apologies and efforts to make amends."
Andrus posted a digital screenshot of Whiskey Row's apology on his Facebook page in a public post with the following caption: "Given the chance they decided to make it right."
Staff will also undergo training with local law enforcement to learn the difference between gang and non-gang-related tattoos.
"While we will continue to strive to keep our patrons safe while in our establishments, further education of our staff will allow us to make exceptions to our dress code and tattoo policy moving forward," the post stated.
Whiskey Row will hold an "Armed Forces Appreciation Day" on Wednesday, March 29 where they will donate an unspecified portion of its sales to a local veteran charity.
The restaurant offers retired military members a 25-percent discount regularly, said Moore.
"Please note that Dierks [Whiskey Row] and Riot [Hospitality Group] have and always will support and respect our military," Moore said.
Correction: The original posting of this article stated that 22 military veterans die each year instead of each day from suicide. We apologize for the mistake and have corrected the story.