After closing for nearly two weeks following backlash over the owner’s decision to ask White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders to leave, Virginia’s Red Hen restaurant reopened on Thursday to a fully-booked dining room — despite the presence of protesters outside.
“If they want to serve up politics rather than Southern fried chicken, then they are setting up their own demise as a restaurant,” said Patriot Picket founder Jeff Hulbert, who joined protesters flocking to the restaurant ahead of the reopening.
Day 13 outside The Red Hen in Lexington. People are still protesting after Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked to leave. The restaurant was hoping to open today. pic.twitter.com/jAihBBUBEd
— Amy Friedenberger (@AJFriedenberger) July 5, 2018
— Fox News (@FoxNews) July 2, 2018
However, when 5 p.m. rolled around and the Red Hen opened its doors, potential customers gathered around the entrance, hoping for a table. Anyone without a reservation was turned away — as a sign on the door indicated the place was completely booked for the night.
“I thought it was very brave what the owner did,” said Don Mandelkorn, who stopped by the Red Hen but wasn’t able to get in without a reservation. “It probably didn’t come easy. It was probably a difficult decision, but we wanted to support what she did, the actions she took.”
The Red Hen came under fire after Sanders announced via Twitter that she had been “told … to leave” because she works for the president:
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
The restaurant’s owner Stephanie Wilkinson later revealed she had consulted her staff, many of whom felt uncomfortable serving a member of the Trump administration, about whether or not they wanted her to ask Sanders to leave.
“They said, ‘yes,'” she explained. “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.'”
The move sparked a nation-wide debate about civility in politics and holding public officials accountable for the actions of the administration they work for. While the Red Hen returned to booming business, President Donald Trump slammed the restaurant on Twitter days earlier:
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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 25, 2018
Wilkinson, however, said she “would have done the same thing again.”