The co-owner of the Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, Virginia, says she has no regrets about asking White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders to leave in a controversial incident over the weekend.
Stephanie Wilkinson tells the Washington Post that her business has thrived for 10 years because she’s kept politics off the menu in a town that has been deeply divided over political issues. But when President Donald Trump‘s press secretary came into the Red Hen with her family on Friday evening, Wilkinson says she felt compelled to take a stand.
“I’m not a huge fan of confrontation,” Wilkinson said. “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 explains that her staff initially seated Sanders and her family and served them cheese plates before the chef called Wilkinson for advice on how to proceed.
Wilkinson, who was at home that evening, came into the restaurant and talked the issue over with her staff. She says they all objected to Sanders’ defense of Trump’s since-reversed child separation policy and his desire to ban transgender people from the military. Wilkinson says she personally believes that Sanders works for an “inhumane and unethical” administration and defends the president’s cruelest policies.
But Wilkinson left the decision up to her staff. She says she told them, “Tell me what you want me to do. I can ask her to leave. They said ‘yes.’ ”
Wilkinson recalls walking up to Sanders at her table and saying, “I’m the owner. I’d like you to come out to the patio with me for a word.”
After the two stepped outside, Wilkinson says, “I was babbling a little, but I got my point across in a polite and direct fashion. 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 Sanders immediately responded, “That’s fine. I’ll go.”
Before leaving, the Sanders family offered to pay for the cheese plates they had ordered but Wilkinson told them the food was on the house.
The incident came weeks after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a bakery owner who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, a verdict many conservatives praised.
After Friday night, the Ren Hen’s Yelp and Facebook pages were flooded with posts in support of Sanders, with many calling the establishment’s owners “bigots.” But many others praised the restaurant staff for standing up to Sanders.
“Thank you for refusing to serve a person who lies to the American people for a living,” one five-star Yelp review said.
Sanders, who has received widespread criticism in the past for defending the president’s lies, tweeted about her experience at the Red Hen on Saturday, saying, “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.”
Her boss also defended her in a tweet mocking the Red Hen as “filthy” inside and out.
Trump tweeted Monday, “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!”
But Wilkinson says she doesn’t regret her decision.
“I would have done the same thing again,” she told the Post on Saturday. “We just felt there are moments in time when people need to live their convictions. This appeared to be one.”