New Jersey

Haters, You Have the Wrong Red Hen: NJ Small Business Targeted After White House Press Secretary Ousted From VA Restaurant

Internet vitriol comes in many varieties. But perhaps none is so bewildering as the vitriol that emerges from a complete misunderstanding of a situation. 

For example: When your family restaurant just happens to share the name of a suddenly-Internet-infamous establishment that turned away President Trump's press secretary Friday night.

That is the unenviable situation of The Red Hen in Swedesboro, New Jersey. The mom-and-pop joint is not, in any way, even remotely, even a little bit connected to the Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, Virginia.

The Virginia restaurant's co-owner said she asked Sarah Huckabee Sanders to leave Friday night, after staff members, some of whom are gay, expressed concern about Sanders' defense of the president's desire to bar transgender people from the military. 

But try explaining the difference between two unrelated establishments in different states to some people on social media.

Actually, the Swedesboro restaurant did try. It had mixed results.

"THE RED HEN IN SWEDESBORO, NEW JERSEY IS IN NO WAY AFFILIATED WITH THE RED HEN IN VIRGINIA" (in all caps) begins a post on the New Jersey restaurant's Facebook page. "Kindly check your facts before you erroneously defame an innocent business on Facebook."

And the very first, algorithmically voted-up comment on this post responds, "BOYCOTT ALL RED HEN RESTAURANTS!"

The post has 375 comments, many pointing out the difference between the restaurants, but many others conflating them.

You can imagine how the conversation devolves from there.

The New Jersey restaurant says this is a serious problem. The staff has borne the brunt of about 200 phone calls, some in solidarity, some angry. The angry ones seemed to come largely from out of state.

"At first, it was, 'Are you The Red Hen?' and then people would curse and swear. And slam the phone down." Operating Manager Elizabeth Pope told NBC10.

The Swedesboro restaurant's Facebook reviews took a dive after the news broke, with multiple people posting 1-star reviews since Friday. "Never recommend it for a family dinner as they have guests removed for political reasons. Not very American!" reads a typical one.

Other new, one-star reviews trash the food. "I am concerned with what it can do in the long term," Pope told

Commenters try to correct the reviewers and point out the difference between the two restaurants, but that doesn't change the overall average. Pope told her Facebook rating has dropped precipitously since Friday; it had been 4.8 stars out of five, she said.

Yelp reviews weren't affected as much, possibly because misinformed reviews are being removed. On Saturday night, only one such review could be found on The Red Hen's Yelp page, which read, "Can't believe with all the people in there the other night, you know the night they kicked out Sarah and family because she worked for the WH, and Yelp is deleting those reviews."

There's a Red Hen in Washington, D.C., too, and it had to tweet out a clarification.

This is all a challenge stiffer than a dinner rush for the Swedesboro restaurant, which has been in business six years and is known for its burgers. 

"People need to check the facts and do research before they make comments and try to ruin a small business," Pope said.

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