WASHINGTON — White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted Saturday that she was asked to leave a Virginia restaurant by its owners Friday night because she works for President Donald Trump, setting off a vigorous debate on social media.
“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,” Huckabee Sanders tweeted.
“Her actions say far more about her than about me,” Huckabee Sanders added. “I always do my best to treat people, including those I disagree with, respectfully and will continue to do so”
Stephanie Wilkinson, the owner of the 26-seat restaurant in the liberal enclave in rural Virginia roughly three hours’ drive from the White House, told the Washington Post her chef had called her at home to tell her Huckabee Sanders had arrived with a party of eight, and she came in right away.
Wilkinson met with her employees, who she said were aware that Huckabee Sanders had defended Trump’s banning transgender people from the military and the administration’s migrant family-separation policy. She asked if she should ask Huckabee Sanders to leave and they said yes.
“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 told the Post.
The party had already been served cheese plates and ordered a meal, she said.
Wilkinson said she asked Huckabee Sanders to talk to her on the patio, and then explained her restaurant had standards of honesty, compassion and cooperation, and said, “I’d like to ask you to leave.” She said Huckabee Sanders replied, “That’s fine, I’ll go.”
Wilkinson told the Post she refused their offer to pay for the appetizers. The restaurant did not respond to Newsday’s phone call or email questions on Saturday.
Huckabee Sanders’ tweet prompted strong reactions for and against Wilkinson’s decision, including one from the press secretary’s father, former Arkansas governor and conservative political commentator Mike Huckabee.
“Bigotry. On the menu at Red Hen Restaurant in Lexington VA. Or you can ask for the ‘Hate Plate’. And appetizers are ‘small plates for small minds,’” Huckabee tweeted.
Some who supported the restaurant owner suggested that the Trump administration had opened the door for businesses to turn down people they don’t agree with by backing a Lakewood, Colorado baker who refused to provide a cake for a same-sex couple. The Supreme Court recently sided with the baker.
“The irony of the restaurant refusing to serve Sarah Huckabee Sanders on the same principle — newly ruled in the Supreme Court as constitutional! — as the bakery who refused to make a gay wedding cake,” Katie Notopoulos tweeted.
But Maria Vicente posted on Twitter, “We are with you, Sarah! The Left has only lies, hate & violence left. No platform, no message except they like criminal illegals, human traffickers, MS13 & drug cartels. POTUS’ practical, pro American worker & industry stance is working. So proud of all you do!”
People also swamped Yelp, the website that posts reviews of restaurants and other services, with messages critical and supportive of the restaurant. Yelp then put a notice on its webpage for The Red Hen saying it would clean up the political commentary – and just leave actual restaurant reviews.