When White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders wanted to dine at the Red Hen in Lexington, Virginia in June 2018, owner Stephanie Wilkinson took a stand against her politics by asking her to leave. Wilkinson soon found herself inundated with hate mail from far-right supporters of President Donald Trump. But in a May 14 op-ed for the Washington Post, Wilkinson expresses no regrets over her actions — stressing that there were many others who applauded her.
Wilkinson recalls that “within 24 hours” of the incident, “the restaurant’s phone line was hacked, my staff and I were doxxed, and threats to our lives and families and property were pouring in through every available channel. Protesters colonized the streets around the restaurant.”
The Red Hen owner continues, “In more than 4000 painstakingly typed letters, hastily scrawled postcards, and feces-smeared notebook pages, I was branded a racist, a bigot and a hypocrite — a victim of ‘Trump Derangement Syndrome.’ I was an idiot, or worse, and a lousy manager. Sure, I’d 86’d Sanders, but it was my business that was going down the drain.”
Wilkinson goes on to say, however, that as she “kept opening the letters,” she “saw a pattern.” Wilkinson remembers, “For every hateful message, there was one of gratitude. For every angry accusation that our actions were driven by the inability to accept Hillary Clinton’s 2016 loss, there was a note of thanks from someone lamenting Trump’s rollback of protections for marginalized people. What’s more, for every wish that our business die a painful death, there was a dollar bill or a generous check or an order for a gift certificate.”
As much hate mail as she received from Trumpistas, Wilkinson notes, she didn’t go out of business—in fact, the restaurant’s “dining room was full” when the Red Hen reopened after a ten-day hiatus.
“In the following weeks,” Wilkinson recalls, “people who had never been to the Shenandoah Valley traveled out of their way to eat with us. Hundreds of orders for our Red Hen spice blend poured in. And the love spread far beyond our door as supporters sent thousands of dollars in donations in our honor to our local food pantry, our domestic violence shelter and first responders. After nearly a year, I’m happy to say that business is still good. Better than good, actually. ”
Wilkinson wraps up her op-ed by stressing that she is glad she stood up to Trumpism last year.
“To everyone who might be fearful about taking a stand,” Wilkinson advices, “I say don’t be. Resistance is not futile for you or your business.”