On Saturday morning, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders tweeted that she was kicked out of a Virginia restaurant, the Red Hen, because she works for President Trump.
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
— Sarah Sanders (@PressSec) June 23, 2018
An immediate debate broke out about discrimination. Sanders' father, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, even called it "bigotry."
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” https://t.co/rHEVdcQwwh
— Gov. Mike Huckabee (@GovMikeHuckabee) June 23, 2018
The owner of the Red Hen, Stephanie Wilkinson, spoke with The Washington Post. She explained that when she got a call from the chef informing her that Sanders was there, she didn't believe him. "He said the staff is a little concerned," Wilkinson told the Post. "I said I'd be down to see if it's true."
Wilkinson then drove to the restaurant, keeping in mind that in a county that voted overwhelmingly for Trump, her city of Lexington had done the opposite. However, she was also thinking about how her restaurant had managed to stay in business by avoiding politics, she told the Post.
"And she knew — she believed — that Sarah Huckabee Sanders worked in the service of an 'inhumane and unethical' administration," the Post reported. "That she publicly defended the president's cruelest policies, and that that could not stand."
Wilkinson said she's not a "huge fan" of confrontation, and she wants her business to thrive, but she had to stand up to Sanders. "This feels like the moment in our democracy when people have to make uncomfortable actions and decisions to uphold their morals," she told the Post.
But first, Wilkinson checked with her staff. "Tell me what you want me to do. I can ask her to leave," she told her employees. "They said 'yes.'"
Wilkinson also ensured that Sanders had already been served because she didn't want her staff to refuse the press secretary on sight. When she confirmed this, Wilkinson said she approached Sanders' table and asked her to speak outside.
"I was babbling a little, but I got my point across in a polite and direct fashion," Wilkinson told the Post. "I explained that the restaurant has certain standards that I feel it has to uphold, such as honesty, and compassion, and cooperation."
Then, Wilkinson asked Sanders to leave.
"That's fine. I'll go," Sanders said, according to Wilkinson. She also said Sanders' group offered to pay, but Wilkinson said it was "on the house."
Wilkinson said she had no regrets. "I would have done the same thing again," she said. "We just felt there are moments to live their convictions. This appeared to be one."
Since the incident, the Red Hen's Yelp page has received more than 2,000 reviews — likely from people who have never been there. Some praised Wilkinson's decision, but a number of Trump supporters condemned her.
The move came just a few days after protesters shouted at Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen while she dined at a Mexican restaurant, causing her to leave.