A co-owner of the Red Hen restaurant, the Lexington, Virginia, eatery that booted White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders nearly a year ago for her role in the Trump administration, spoke out Tuesday about the slew of hate mail that followed.
In a Washington Post op-ed, Stephanie Wilkinson recalled the moment last June when she decided to ask Sanders to leave.
“Faced with the prospect of serving a fine meal to a person whose actions in the service of our country we felt violated basic standards of humanity, we balked,” she wrote. “We couldn’t do it.”
Wilkinson recalled taking Sanders aside and suggesting she exit the restaurant, a request that Wilkinson said was honored “politely.” Sanders “never showed any sign of outrage, or even much surprise,” Wilkinson wrote.
To her own surprise, however, the story snowballed into national news, sparking a frenzy from outraged critics.
“Within 24 hours, 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,” Wilkinson wrote. “Protesters colonized the streets around the restaurant. Thousands of fake Yelp reviews torpedoed our ratings, and dozens of people attempted to lock up our tables with reservations they had no intention of honoring.”
Piling on, President Donald Trump himself smeared the restaurant in a tweet, calling its appearance “filthy” and slamming it for “refusing to serve a fine person like” Sanders.
The attacks weren’t confined to the digital world, Wilkinson noted. Mail began pouring in.
“For the first few days the rubber-banded bundles fit into my letter carrier’s shoulder bag,” she said. “But soon he was forced to heft large white plastic totes overflowing with letters and packages up to my door. Staring at it all made my stomach clench.”
Though Wilkinson said more than 4,000 letters delivered hateful messages peppered with insults, many others were supportive. Some even contained money, she said.
“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,” Wilkinson wrote. “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.”
In her own response the day after she was asked to leave the Red Hen, Sanders tweeted that the co-owner’s “actions say far more about her than about me.”
Despite all the criticism, Wilkinson wrote Tuesday that “business is still good,” and added that the surrounding town has seen a boost in hospitality and sales revenue and an upswing in contributions to area charities.