The Red Hen isn’t the first Virginia business to bake up controversy by rejecting a political figure’s business.
The owner of a cookie shop turned down the opportunity to serve Vice President Joe Biden in 2012 — and the right embraced him as their small business hero.
Chris McMurray and his wife Kelly had only been in a business a few months when Biden’s advance team walked into their Radford bakery, Crumb and Get It, hoping the veep could stop in for some cookies and a photo opportunity while they were campaigning in the area, but McMurray turned down the offer.
He made the decision “because of conviction and principle,” the shop owner told CBS affiliate WDBJ 7 at the time. “I have a difference of opinion of the folks in that campaign, that’s what it was. Also, taking a stance for my faith, my faith in God.”
The bakery owner said he was particularly put off by remarks made by former President Obama: “Very simply, ‘you didn’t build that.’ Speaking on small businesses and entrepreneurs all across this country and actually last night my wife was up all night. No sleep, she’s worked a full 24 hours.”
Critics were quick to seize on Obama’s statement at the time while his supporters said the quote was taken out of context and being willfully misconstrued by his opponents.
McMurray said his exchange with Biden’s team was quick and respectful.
Following the rejection of Biden, Crumb and Get It received attention from local news crews as well as a steady stream of customers and telephone orders.
McMurray’s story was thrust into the national spotlight with the help of conservative news sites, blogs and the wide-reaching Drudge Report. It eventually caught the eye of Paul Ryan, the Republican Party’s Vice Presidential nominee at the time, who requested that McMurray introduce him at rally in Roanoke a few weeks later.
“We are gathered here today to send a message to the Obama-Biden team that we did build it,” he told the crowds before recalling his decision to turn Biden away. “Nothing personal, but I just happened to disagree with the President and the vice president on a few things.”
Ryan gleefully took the stage and said: “He just gave my speech. I’m voting for that guy Chris.”
McMurray said he received an outpouring of support in the weeks after he opted against serving Biden. Crumb and Get It spawned two more shops, one in Fredericksburg and another in Lakeland, before later shutting its doors.
The bakery shop’s brush with fame mirrors the attention received by the Red Hen after owner Stephanie Wilkinson turned away White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
“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,” Sanders tweeted Saturday. “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.”
The Red Hen controversy unfolded amid public outrage over President Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy, which resulted in thousands of migrant children being separated from their parents after they were detained at the border.
“I’m not a huge fan of confrontation,” Wilkinson told the Washington 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 hold up their morals.”
Red Hen, and other businesses operating with the same name, have since been the subject of an online troll campaign that has forced its Yelp rating down to a lone star and the comment section a war between those with opposing points of view.
“This business page made waves in the news, which often means that people come to this page to post their views on the news,” a disclaimer on the restaurant’s Yelp page reads. “While we don’t take stand one way or the other when it comes to these news events, 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.”
Other Red Hen locations have similarly struggled with those seeking to express frustration over Sanders’ experience at the food place. One Ontario, Canada-based eatery with the same name has been inundated with comments and bad reviews.
“Hope you go out of business you liberal trash. Clean up this dump,” one person wrote.
Another Red Hen in the Philippines was lambasted for kicking out “one of the finest women in this country,” according to the Verge, while similarly named restaurants in New Jersey and Connecticut pleaded with angry Facebook users.
“We were kindly serving all of our customers Friday night with NO knowledge of what was happening in Virginia!” the Saybrook Red Hen Restaurant wrote. “We have no affiliation with Red Hen in Virginia but please stop fighting!”
President Trump also took aim at Red Hen amid the controversy.