Regardless of your politics, everyone can agree it’s wrong that a D.C. restaurant is getting death threats because it shares the same name with a restaurant in Lexington, Virginia that decided not to let Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders finish her meal.
It all started when Huckabee Sanders used her official work account to tweet: “Last night I was told by the owner of Red Hen in Lexington, VA to leave because I work for @POTUS and I politely left. Her actions say far more about her than about me. I always do my best to treat people, including those I disagree with, respectfully and will continue to do so.”
Some social media users failed to notice that Huckabee Sanders clearly identified that she was dining in a small town in Virginia, not the Bloomingdale neighborhood of D.C. Mike Friedman, the chef and owner of The Red Hen in the District, calls it “pure illiteracy.”
“In terms of the truth decay, you have to remember that we didn’t do anything,” he says. “It’s craziness.”
The “craziness” died down a bit Sunday night, according to the restaurant’s publicist Alysa Turner. But then the president woke up today and fanned the flames. Unlike Huckabee Sanders, Donald Trump did not specify which Red Hen he was accusing of being dirty when he tweeted:
“The Red Hen Restaurant should focus more on cleaning its filthy canopies, doors and windows (badly needs a paint job) rather than refusing to serve a fine person like Sarah Huckabee Sanders. I always had a rule, if a restaurant is dirty on the outside, it is dirty on the inside!”
When the president wasn’t precise, he made things worse for the D.C. restaurant. “People are at their desks with nothing to do but send us angry messages,” Turner says. “We’re getting it from both sides, unfortunately.”
Friedman is optimistic the White House will right its wrongs later today.
“You’re going to see things from the White House coming out today in support of us,” he says. “I would say that’s pretty cool. We’re trying to deal with it from the top down.”
The D.C. restaurant is facing real consequences. Someone egged the building last night—they had to spray the whole restaurant down to clean up the mess. Because of the death threats, police have been present during operating hours out of an abundance of caution for staff and patrons. Their star-ratings on review sites like Yelp, Facebook, and Google are also taking a dive.
“There’s been some crazy Yelp and Google reviews,” Friedman says. “There have been a lot of things on Facebook that’s misinformation. Social media is the safest soap box for most of these people that I would consider either misinformed or literal robot trolls.”
Friedman says that while he knows he already has a strong base of fans in D.C. who crave the restaurant’s rigatoni and funky wines, star ratings do concern him because people visiting from out of town often consult ratings sites before visiting.
Turner commends Google and Facebook for cleaning up incorrectly targeted reviews, but Yelp has been a different story. “Since we don’t spend money with them, they don’t care,” she says. She first called on Saturday. “I was treated rudely and told someone will take a look on Monday. How does that help if a crisis happens over the weekend?”
Yelp was quick to post the company’s standard “active clean-up alert” message over the weekend on the Virginia Red Hen’s page but it took until a few minutes ago for them to do the same in D.C. “They were on that right away, but no one was helping us. I called again this morning but was transferred to voicemail.”
Restaurant industry professionals and regular customers of The Red Hen have taken it upon themselves to counteract the negative reviews with positive ones. Others are coming in for a meal.
“If you want to help Red Hen, patronize us,” Friedman says. “Have a drink, have a bite, fill up our reservations … We opened this restaurant five years ago in the shadow of the United States Capitol. You can come dine here regardless of your age, gender, or political affiliation.”
He looks forward to this finally blowing over.
“When we’re drinking our bourbon at night, we have to remember that we didn’t do anything wrong,” Friedman says. “We just ended up sharing our name with a place that made a choice to lead someone out of their restaurant.”
The Red Hen, 1822 1st St. NW; (202) 525-3021; theredhendc.com