Neither you nor your money are welcome…real life happenings

“This aggression will not stand, Man.”– The Dude, aka Jeff Lewbowski

Several years ago, I officially gave up cooking holiday meals. It was around the time my son became a vegetarian and I realized that my younger kiddo really wouldn’t eat a vegetable unless it was on a cob, blended in a smoothie or under threat of bodily harm. After the first Thanksgiving dinner as a mixed meat/ no-meat family, I said the hell with it. The holidays already carried a heavy emotional weight but feeling like a line cook really wasn’t for me. It also wasn’t working for my family either since by the end of the day, I apparently was one step away from homicide based off the stories they have told me.

So we started looking for holiday places that could accommodate the entire family and low and behold, we stumbled across a hidden gem located a few miles away from the house. A true treat with food that satisfied everyone; in my family, to accomplish this is huge. Since typically when all four of us are together, someone goes back to the house and has to find something else to eat. This place was such a delight in our earlier visits that we eventually added it to our Mother’s Day and Easter roster of places to go. In many ways, The Chef and the Gardener became a part of our family’s traditions, especially for my 10-year-old daughter who associates holidays with a trip to that restaurant.

This has been a rough year for our family, we became a viral story after being called that nasty word, we almost lost my beloved father and then of course the decision after almost 20 years to take a marital hiatus. The estranged husband and I wanted to offer normalcy to our daughter’s life as she struggles with so many changes which will now include changing schools. So, as we always do, we are celebrating out holidays together as a family because we are still a family despite no longer sharing a primary residence.

In that case, I knew that a return trip to The Chef and the Gardener was in order despite the fact that the last time we were there earlier this year, neither the food nor the service was up to the standards that I had come to expect. Our last meal was a disappointment and I did speak up. No cussing, yelling or anything inappropriate, but I was honest; no longer do I silence myself in these moments. Nothing could have prepared me for the cost of that feedback.

Several weeks ago, I called to make our reservations as usual only to be told that they were all booked up. OK. We were disappointed but we figured we would find some place else to go. Granted, it seemed really early for the reservations to have been all taken up, based on past experience with them. I booked us for another place but realized that the menu was too “fancy” for the kiddo. Needless to say, if we are going to pay $150-plus for a dinner, I have no intentions of going home and cooking after dinner for the kiddo.

Back to the drawing board I go. On a whim, I look up The Chef and the Gardener on Facebook to see if they have any openings. Well sure enough, they have a few openings. I call their number and leave a message, I also leave a message on their Facebook page asking them to email me. No one calls me back that day, I call the next day only to be told that they booked those reservations already…strange but I don’t question it until today.

I woke up to an email from one of the owners (it’s a married couple).

Screenshot_2015-11-25-08-38-19I had to reread this several times and then I shared it on my personal Facebook page and Twitter accounts because I was honestly gobstopped. You basically told me that I am not welcome at your establishment because I told you the last meal was not enjoyable yet I have had many enjoyable meals there so I figured it was worth giving you another chance. It was also critically important to give my kid a sense of normal in a year that has been anything but normal. I would swallow shit pies and nails to make my kid feel okay. Hence, I was more than eager to return to place that represents normal and tradition despite the lackluster meal the last time I was there. Besides we all have a bad day.

The truth is that I have never seen another Black person at this establishment, and that whenever a person of color (especially a Black woman) speaks up it is seen as “aggressive and even threatening” as we are often reduced to tropes…can you say angry Black woman? So despite the fact that while I was curt and direct in my feedback the last time I was at this establishment, it was seen as so “terrible” that I am essentially banned from their establishment.

Yet this behavior is nothing new: There is personal, structural and institutional racism. There are microaggressions. To be Black is all about that double consciousness that DuBois wrote about. Are the owners just grade-A jerks with poor communication skills and passive-aggressiveness or grade-A jerks with racist tendencies who would rather not serve a Black person who doesn’t deign to delight in just being allowed to dine at their establishment? I suppose I will never know.

In the meantime, let’s hope our third-choice restaurant is satisfying tomorrow and that new traditions can be started.
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20 thoughts on “Neither you nor your money are welcome…real life happenings”

  1. The email they sent Shay was weird and inappropriate…at best. I’ve never seen such a passive aggressive response to an RSVP. It was completely unnecessary for them to essentially tell her that she was not welcome, simply because she complained on a *single* occasion. Doesn’t matter if you know them personally or never had it happen to YOU. The fact is that it happened. It’s a customer service fail of the highest order, and it’s enough for me to never set foot in the place.

  2. I have been to the Chef and Gardener many times, and never had anything like this experience. I also know both the owners personally and how they are being described and made the villain because you had a bad day is just wrong. Do you really expect everyone to believe that they did nothing to try to make you happy? From reading the previous posts, it looks like you were extremely upset (and rightly so) because of unrelated events and have now found someone to take it out on. But instead of righting a wrong, you have created an even greater wrong.

  3. Well, I was one of a handful of people who posted polite but pointed questions and comments on The Chef & The Gardner FaceBook page. Rather than reply, or even acknowledge our concerns, they deleted all but one of our posts, and altered the format of the page so there is no longer a way to leave visitor comments. I will admit that I might have provoked things a bit by posting a copy of a review they received a few months ago from a Portland paper. Fair and balanced reviewing, but a real thumbs down for the food.


    I am writing to express my surprise at your response to Mrs. Shay Stewart- Bouley and her family. I am not a young woman, and have many decades of experience of dining out, in this country and while living abroad. While well-regarded restaurants, such as yours, achieve that status by offering an outstanding dining experience, occasional glitches and disappointments are only human and to be expected. As long-time customers, the Stewart-Bouley family knew you well, and felt invested enough in their connection to you as a favorite special occasion restaurant, to speak up when they had a visit that did not reflect your establishment at its best. That’s hardly an unusual occurrence between a long-time customer and a local business.

    Best business practices in such circumstances are so clear as to be virtually automatic responses: an apology without any debate about what did or did not take place; reassurance that the complaint will be taken seriously and addressed; the expression of the hope that they will return, along a gracious gesture such as promising dessert on the house next time, or a two-for-one discount next time — something to indicate that you value their patronage.

    How is it possible that such a fundamental element of doing business with the public was stood on its head by, first, your refusal to give them a reservation, and that followed by, of all things, a peevish message telling them to go elsewhere? My understanding is that their complaint was made clearly but discreetly and to the correct people in charge. Is your restaurant so far above critique that people can be banished for speaking up in that way? Are you not a part of the hospitality industry? And whatever happened to the wise adage promoting repeat business that “the customer is always right”?

    I realize that these holiday weeks are a busy season for you, but I would be so pleased to hear from you about your position on this. I have a deep fondness for Maine — when my husband attended UMaine Law School in Portland he lived for a while in Saco, and we are a part of the summer colony that has been going to Dark Harbor on Islesboro for generations. Fine restaurants should be a pleasant part of the life and economy of the state, for residents and visitors alike.


  5. This is terrible. As a business, they should have enough confidence in their service to welcome the opportunity to serve your family again. In addition to racism being a factor, they may be wanting to avoid bad publicity if you don’t like the next meal there. I was fired from a dentist’s office after I reported them to my insurance company for price-gouging and inaccurate dental diagnosis. They cut me a check for a small refund, but they didn’t want me to have another bad experience with them and complain to the insurance company again. Fortunately I found a far better dentist for my family shortly after. I hope your Thanksgiving dinner at the new place is great; maybe it will even become your new tradition. <3

  6. Such a petty, spiteful, and vindictive response to your request. As you’ve said, they could’ve just not responded and you’d have been none the wiser.

    But that response speaks volumes. That was them attempting to “put you in your place.” Garbage people. I’m so sorry this happened; I hope you and the fam have a peaceful time, and you and I will make merry soon. ❤️

  7. Shay ….. it seems like you have violated that cardinal rule in Maine…… something like this, ” you never complain about bad service; instead just leave and do not come back “. And the owners reply was a “bitchy” passive -aggressive response to this violation. Have a great time at the “third-choice restaurant ” – it may be better than you expect. And lets all boycott or send “nasties” to that other one !

    • Seeing red when I sent this Email to them —-On your website you say .”We are a restaurant that believes dining out should be an enjoyable & exciting experience for everyone…no matter how they choose to eat”…… but as long as they do not complain about your service ! How provincial Maine when a cardinal rule is still being implemented — that is, a customer never complains about poor service, instead just leaves without complaining. Thank G’ d the better and more enlightening restaurents in Saco do appreciate and correct such customer feedback. Yours sounds like it is being run by a bunch of north wood, “hippies”. Get with it — you are an insult to the progressives around here.

    • It’s so unprofessional and lousy service to not accept feedback. Like Shay said, she’d been there numerous times before. One would *think* her feedback as a repeat customer would be especially valued … SMH. One would think.

  8. Shay, this very samething has happened to me and I am white. I think some people are just assholes regardless of color. Look at that crazy diner owner lady who threw out the yuppie couple with the baby in Portland last year.

      • I think her point was that”it has happened to white folks and black folks alike”, not to diminish the fact that the writer is a black woman who had bad service. Unfortunately in today’s climate, the default is to assume that something is a racist response, when it may in fact just be a generally inappropriate response, that anyone who expresses dissatisfaction would have received. In this case I would go with generally inappropriate response, which happened to be sent to a black woman. (And before everyone starts screaming at me, im not saying racism doesn’t exist, or hasn’t happened to Shay, im just saying that it may not have been the case here.) Its sometimes difficult to differentiate.
        For the author to say “I have never seen another black person in this establishment”is unfair and unnecessary. Unless she has been there every second that the restaurant has been open, she cannot accurately comment on who does and does not eat there.

        • Debbie,

          Perhaps my statement was unfair and a result of my emotions. However I dine out often enough to know that a less than stellar meal happens occasionally. It’s the nature of the beast. However telling a patron who complained about a meal to not return is highly problematic to say the least. Unless they have a policy of refusing service to patrons who complain and can show that, their reply to my attempt to dine there again deserves some answers especially since if they had said nothing to me, I had no reason to assume anything. That email to me left a very bad taste in my mouth. I had no idea that I was being refused service until they wrote that email. Period. However a vague email like that opens them up to scrutiny. Again, is this a policy of theirs? I have asked enough folks in the industry locally if this is a policy they are familiar with and most were quite surprised to see a restaurant owner write such an email.

    • Why do some white people do this? It’s so frustrating to be told a racist encounter wasn’t actually racist at all, and that black folks are somehow mistaken. For the love of God, why discount a woman’s experience by suggesting her version of events might not have actually happened?

      • BABYLONSISTA…… in Shays case given the extent of covert racism in southern Maine and New England as a whole …. I would not be surprised at all if this was a component within her experience here, as well ….but what a “bitch”. And this establishment should be boycotted by all of us !

      • Wow, Babylonista, I could follow up your response with “why do some black folks do this, try to make every slight a claim of racism?” But that would be as offensive and inaccurate as your response. Yes, racist responses exist. No, not every response is racist. The danger with using the word “racism” without proof is that once spoken, it cannot be taken back. Prove that it was a racist act before accusing. Because if not, even if ultimately proven otherwise, the damage has been done.which I’m sure that a person seeking truth and justice for all would not want.

        • Debbie, your reply makes it clear that you’re not getting the insidiousness of racism. Just because the racism isn’t overt and just because the target of the racism can’t “prove” it’s racism, doesn’t mean that his or her experience is invalid. The fact is that that possibility underlies every interaction of this sort for a person of color and it’s not appropriate for us to discount or dismiss that. And, Shay, my apologies if I’m out of line here.

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