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Behind a Virginia restaurant’s political firestorm

Behind a Virginia restaurant’s political firestorm

Red Hen ousts White House press secretary, faces backlash

While the 26-seat Red Hen Lex restaurant in Lexington, Va., serves a farm-to-table menu nearly 200 miles southwest of Washington, D.C., the small eatery ran directly into the buzz saw of the nation’s political divide Friday night.

Red Hen owner Stephanie Wilkinson, after polling her small wait staff at Friday dinner service, asked White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and her reserved table of eight to leave the premises, igniting a firestorm in social media over the weekend, flagging a warning on its Yelp page, creating collateral problems for like-named eateries and eliciting a critical tweet Monday morning from the leader of the free world.

The Red Hen is located in the Virginia community of 7,000 people nearly across East Washington Street from the home of Stonewall Jackson, the Confederate general. The restaurant is a few blocks from both Washington and Lee University and the Virginia Military Institute.

Sanders’ restaurant encounter was not the first for White House representatives this month.

Other officials in President Donald Trump’s administration were heckled last week at Mexican restaurants in the District of Columbia. Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielson was protested at MXDC on June 18 over the immigration issue and White House adviser Stephen Miller was accosted at Espita Mezcaleria on June 17.

Given the uproar, the Red Hen by Monday had placed calling restrictions on incoming calls through its service provider Verizon, but here are six things publicly known: 

1. Sanders tweeted out the service refusal on Saturday:

2. President Donald Trump early Monday provided his own Yelp-type review on Twitter:

3. As it so often does when businesses become the sites of controversy, the Yelp social reviewing website turned into the Thunderdome of comments on both sides of the issue.

Users posted hundreds of “reviews” both against and in support of the owner. The heated debate provoked a Yelp Cleanup Alert.

Yelp suggested that any business facing an onslaught of apparently protest reviews be sure to have the owner claim their pages in order to report reviews they believe are in error or malice. The review-rating site offerings more information here.

4. Collateral damage came when the similarly named Red Hen in the District of Columbia was forced to post Saturday that it was not the same Red Hen.

5. The Lexington Red Hen owner, Wilkinson, said the decision was not an easy one.

“I’m not a huge fan of confrontation,” Wilkinson told the Washington Post. “I have a business, and I want the business to thrive. This feels like the moment in our democracy when people have to make uncomfortable actions and decisions to uphold their morals.”

Wilkinson said she asked Sanders if they could talk away from the table. “I was babbling a little, but I got my point across in a polite and direct fashion,” Wilkinson said. “I explained that the restaurant has certain standards that I feel it has to uphold, such as honesty, and compassion, and cooperation.

“I said, ‘I’d like to ask you to leave.’ ”

Wilkinson said she told Sanders that the group’s cheese boards and other incidentals were on the house, and they would not have to pay.

6. Federal officials who comment on private businesses on public social media accounts may violate of ethics rules, noted Walter Shaub, former director of the Office of Government Ethics. Shaub tweeted:

Shaub likened it to agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives using their law enforcement credentials inappropriately.

Contact Ron Ruggless at [email protected] 

Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless 

TAGS: Operations
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