On Friday evening, Sarah Huckabee Sanders was allegedly asked to leave a restaurant in Virginia by its owner. By Saturday morning, it had become a national incident. And now, The Red Hen, the Virginia restaurant Sanders got booted from, is getting a boatload of mixed reviews on Yelp and beyond.
Located in the small town of Lexington, Virginia, where the population is just over 7,000, The Red Hen promotes itself as a the city's "first farm-to-table restaurant, featuring the bounty of the Shenandoah Valley." The restaurant emphasizes local and seasonal ingredients in its menu.
As news of Sanders' experience spread Saturday, commenters flooded the Yelp and Facebook pages for The Red Hen with praise and condemnation. Within hours the restaurant's ratings had dropped considerably as voters battled it out in the reviews.
"Never eat here! they are racists and bigots," a one-star review left Saturday on The Red Hen's Yelp page read. "They are a disgrace to virgina (sic). shae (sic) on them."
"Upstanding, conscientious, fair and just," a five-star Yelp review for The Red Hen left Saturday read. "Great food too!!!"
The flood of politically-motivated reviews forced Yelp to post an Active Cleanup Alert on The Red Hen's page shortly after Sanders confirmed she'd been asked to leave the restaurant. "This business recently made waves in the news, which often means that people come to this page to post their views on the news," the Yelp alert read. "We do work to remove both positive and negative posts that appear to be motivated more by the news coverage itself than the reviewer's personal consumer experience with the business."
On the restaurant's Facebook page, the comment sections of older, seemingly genuine reviews left in 2016 and 2017 ballooned as Facebook users argued amongst themselves over the owner's decision to ask Sanders to leave. Some outraged Facebook users called for a boycott of the small restaurant while others derided it as "unAmerican." Others offered praise and support for the eatery, with some going so far as to thank the restaurant for "a job well done."
But owner of The Red Hen Stephanie Wilkinson told The Washington Post that the decision to ask Sanders to leave wasn't made on a whim. After being alerted of Sanders presence by the small 26-seat restaurant's chef, Wilkinson gathered her staff, some of whom are, by Wilkinson's own admission, members of the LGBTQ community and who disagree with many of the Trump administration's policies. She asked them what they wanted her to do, and they told her to ask Sanders to leave.
"I'm not a huge fan of confrontation," Wilkinson told the 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 took Sanders to a private area in the restaurant and told her that, as the establishment's owner, she felt she had a duty to uphold the restaurant's standards of honesty, compassion, and cooperation. "I said, 'I'd like to ask you to leave,'" Wilkinson said.
Sanders left without issue and everyone involved was, according to Wilkinson, polite about the whole thing.
Sanders confirmed the incident Saturday on Twitter. "I was told by the owner of Red Hen in Lexington, VA to leave because I work for @POTUS and I politely left," she tweeted.
But the White House press secretary also took a dig at Wilkinson, tweeting "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."
Clarissa-Jan Lim Szu-Hwei contributed to this report.