Michael Friedman never imagined that naming his restaurant The Red Hen would be so controversial.
But when the co-owner of another restaurant named The Red Hen – this one almost 200 miles away in Lexington, Va. – refused to serve White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders on Friday night, it was open season on any eatery with Hen in its name.
“It was a bit of an interesting day yesterday,” Friedman told Fox News. “There were so many negative comments floating in on social media and people calling up my restaurants to threaten us.”
The foul play began when Sanders tweeted that she was told by the owner of the Red Hen in Lexington, Va., that she had to "leave because I work for @POTUS and I politely left." She said the episode Friday evening said far more about the owner of the restaurant than it did about her.
"I always do my best to treat people, including those I disagree with, respectfully and will continue to do so," Sanders said in the tweet from her official account, which generated 22,000 replies in about an hour.
While Friedman tried to quickly quell any bird-brained backlash mistakenly directed at his Italian-influenced restaurant by posting on its social media accounts that his eatery had no affiliation to the one in Lexington, it did little to stop the flood of angry comments and calls. One person called up one of Friedman’s other restaurants and threatened to blow it up, while another just repeated the word “shame” over and over again.
“This is a huge misconception,” Friedman said. “We are not affiliated with the restaurant in Lexington; this is not a franchise. We serve whoever walks through out door, no matter their race, creed, sexual orientation, political party or whatever.”
Friedman’s restaurant wasn’t the only restaurant named The Red Hen to erroneously take heat following Sanders getting the boot in Lexington.
In Swedesboro, N.J., a family-style restaurant by the same name was also lambasted by supporters of President Trump – receiving about 200 phone calls and seeing their Facebook rating plummet to 1-star. The eatery was also finally forced to go to social media to clear up the issue.
"THE RED HEN IN SWEDESBORO, NEW JERSEY IS IN NO WAY AFFILIATED WITH THE RED HEN IN VIRGINIA,” a post on the New Jersey restaurant's Facebook page states. "Kindly check your facts before you erroneously defame an innocent business on Facebook."
Sanders’ dilemma in Lexington is just the latest is a series of bad nights out for members of Trump’s administration.
Earlier in the week, Trump's Homeland Security secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, cut short a working dinner at a Mexican restaurant in Washington after protesters shouted, "Shame!" until she left. A few days earlier, Trump aide Stephen Miller, a key adviser on immigration, was accosted by someone at a different Mexican restaurant in the city, who called him "a fascist," according to the New York Post.
In Lexington – a spot of blue in a sea of red that sided with Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election by a 2-1 margin – most local business owners sided with The Red Hen co-owner Stephanie Wilkinson giving a brusque reception to Sanders.
Tom Lomax, who owns a local business, called Wilkinson a "force of nature" and "one of the biggest drivers of the downtown."
"We support our own here, great little community we have," he said.
Stephen Russek, a former restaurant owner in the area, however, said "they had no right to do that."
"You have your political opinions, you don't throw somebody out of your restaurant," Russek, who lives nearby, said. "They ought to be shut down."
Wilkinson told The Washington Post that her staff had called her to report Sanders was in the restaurant. She cited several reasons, including the concerns of several restaurant employees who were gay and knew Sanders had defended Trump's desire to bar transgender people from the military.
"Tell me what you want me to do. I can ask her to leave," Wilkinson told her staff, she said. "They said yes."