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It’s not about the salad. Or the cake. | Column

by | June 30, 2018 5:00 pm

Last Updated: June 27, 2018 at 11:07 am

From the wedding cake that never was to booting restaurant patrons, food folly abounds. And we all know it’s not about food.
This month, a bakery owner who refused to bake a cake for a gay couple’s wedding in 2012 was validated by the Supreme Court. Jack Phillips didn’t want to do something that violated his beliefs. Some may think he’s misguided, but there’s no doubt he’s sincere.
The Trump administration backed Phillip’s stance, saying the court’s decision was a win for individual rights. But now the shoe’s tickling the other foot.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and her family were asked to leave a tiny Lexington, Va. restaurant last week, because she works for Donald Trump. Ouch. Embarrassed, party of eight!
They were reportedly kicked out by Red Hen co-owner Stephanie Wilkinson. (The restaurateurs I know wouldn’t deep-six paying customers unless they actually set the dining room on fire.)
Sanders’ party was nibbling appetizers when Wilkinson asked to speak to her privately. She told Sanders her presence violated the restaurant’s standards of “honesty, compassion, and cooperation.”
Dang! I didn’t realize you had to pass a morals test before being served an overpriced salad, but whatever. To repeat what was said about the baker: Some may think Wilkinson is misguided, but there’s no doubt she’s sincere in her beliefs.
Sanders, to her credit, immediately gathered her party and left quietly. The next morning she called out the restaurant on Twitter, apparently from her perch on Mt. Pious.
“I always do my best to treat people, including those I disagree with, respectfully and will continue to do so,” she wrote. “[Wilkinson’s] actions say far more about her than about me.”
Um, no, Sarah. I get that you have a thankless job. I respect you for being a working mother. But you defend indefensible policies, evade the truth and treat reporters with open contempt. You don’t get the moral high ground here.
Next, because this is America and it’s what we do, posters flooded the restaurant’s Yelp site. Some comments:
“Thank you for refusing to serve a person who lies to the American people for a living.”
“Great way to alienate half your customer base. Good business move!”
“I would never eat here again. The owner is a bigot.”
“Sarah needs to watch a playback of her daily meetings with reporters. She has a rude attitude, tone and demeanor. Work on your own respect issues first Sanders.”
“Bigotry is on the menu at Red Hen restaurant. Or you can ask for the hate plate. And appetizers are small plates for small minds.” I admit, that made me laugh.
Other comments were vile, suggesting that “squatters” sabotage the Red Hen’s restrooms, make reservations for 60 and never show up, order $400 worth of food and leave, etc.
When I was a reporter, I didn’t have the luxury of interviewing only those whose ideology I agreed with. I did the interview (attended the meeting, covered the trial, etc.), wrote the stories dispassionately and let the chips fall where they may.
The thing is, the chips seldom exploded. A few angry letters, a couple of snubs in the grocery store (I learned to shop fast and light), and life went on. No one waged an online hate campaign or boycotted the newspaper. Because LIFE. GOES. ON.
Maybe this anonymous poster said it best: “This is all getting entirely out of hand. I wish we could go back to the days where people simply didn’t publicly discuss ***, religion or politics.”
Remember when we were kind to each other? Yeah, me neither.

(Julie R. Smith, who was once asked to leave a pet store, can be reached at

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