Eatery made fa­mous by San­ders re­opens

Out­side the Red Hen, po­lit­i­cal di­vide flour­ishes

USA TODAY Weekend Extra - - NEWS - Caro­line Si­mon

LEX­ING­TON, Va. – For a tiny restau­rant in the heart of this his­toric city, open­ing for busi­ness Thurs­day evening was a new chap­ter in a na­tional po­lit­i­cal saga.

Af­ter the Red Hen asked White House press sec­re­tary Sarah Huck­abee San­ders to leave on June 22, a na­tional de­bate over so­cial de­cency in an era of sharp po­lit­i­cal di­vides en­sued. Pro­test­ers flocked to the restau­rant, and it stayed closed for nearly two weeks.

Ahead of the sched­uled re­open­ing at 5 p.m., pro­test­ers and hope­ful cus­tomers gath­ered out­side the Red Hen, just across from the Stonewall Jack­son House.

“If they want to serve up pol­i­tics rather than South­ern fried chicken, then they are set­ting up their own demise as a restau­rant,” said Jeff Hul­bert, founder of Pa­triot Picket, a group of demon­stra­tors who fo­cus on the Sec­ond Amend­ment.

Mem­bers of his group car­ried signs that drew com­par­isons be­tween the present mo­ment and the civil rights era, bear­ing slo­gans such as “Red Hen 2018 = 1960 Wool­worth Lunch Counter,” ref­er­enc­ing a restau­rant where four African-Amer­i­can stu­dents were re­fused ser­vice dur­ing an anti-seg­re­ga­tion protest.

As would-be cus­tomers and passersby walked through the group of pro­test­ers, ar­gu­ments erupted.

“This’ll be closed within a year!” one man shouted. “We’ll keep it open!” a woman replied.

Al­most im­me­di­ately af­ter the restau­rant’s open­ing, po­ten­tial cus­tomers be­gan to ar­rive. Any­one with­out a reser­va­tion was turned away. Ac­cord­ing to a sign on the door, the restau­rant was booked for the night.

“I thought it was very brave what the owner did,” said Don Man­delkorn, who had hoped to eat at the Red Hen on his way back home to Ver­mont. “We wanted to sup­port the ac­tions she took.”

Restau­rant sup­port­ers fre­quently cited the re­cent Supreme Court rul­ing up­hold­ing the right of a Colorado baker to refuse ser­vice to a gay cou­ple on re­li­gious grounds.

“I prob­a­bly would have thought that they shouldn’t have kicked her out,” said Arlene White, a Lex­ing­ton na­tive who had hoped to eat at the Red Hen. “But if you won’t make a cake for a gay cou­ple, for their wed­ding, and the Supreme Court up­holds that right, then things have just gone far enough that I think they’re right to kick her out.”

The one thing pro­test­ers and cus­tomers seemed to share was a fer­vent want to ex­press their be­liefs – as well as a frus­tra­tion with the po­lit­i­cal mo­ment that sparked the Red Hen in­ci­dent in the first place.

“What hap­pened to that lady – and I mean lady – should never hap­pen to any hu­man be­ing,” said Butch Bar­ley of Con­cord, Vir­ginia, who was protest­ing the restau­rant. “You can only take so much, and I’ve got­ten to that point. You back up, you back up, you back up, even­tu­ally you’re against a wall.”

And although the at­mos­phere was tense at times, sev­eral back-and-forths ended with mu­tual agree­ment on at least one sub­ject: Peo­ple should talk to each other.

“Every­body be nice to every­body,” Man­delkorn said jok­ingly. “All right?”

CAMILLE FINE/USA TO­DAY

A pro­tester demon­strates out­side the Red Hen on Thurs­day in Lex­ing­ton, Va.

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