An Open Letter to The Chef and The Gardener or my final thoughts on the matter

If you didn’t read this post, Neither You Nor Your Money are Welcomed Here…Real Life Happenings, I would encourage you to do so.

Dear Maureen and David DBA The Chef and The Gardener,

As you have not reached out to me or my estranged husband who emailed you after receiving your email from a few days ago, I have decided to write to you in this space.

The last time that my family dined in your establishment was on Easter Sunday, which was on April 5; we came for the brunch. After receiving Maureen’s email suggesting that I not return to your eatery, I sat down and talked with my estranged husband and I called my son who had been a part of our last visit to your establishment. I also checked my Instagram feed as I am a avid user of Instagram and sure enough, I found a picture that corroborated that we had indeed last been in on Easter Sunday. A day that frankly should have been joyous but that was frankly anything but joyous for my family.

Two days earlier on Good Friday, my family and I had been tooling about in Portland on that gorgeous early spring day getting ready to deliver some pretty heavy news to my son who was home visiting for the holiday and a much needed respite from his heavy travel schedule as a musician.  Our family day was interrupted when a carload of young white men decided to hurl that nastiest of words at my mixed-race family. To compound things, our ugly moment was witnessed by former WCSH anchor Jackie Ward who, in what she thought was a kindness, shared that shameful moment on her professional Facebook page. She did such a thorough job of describing my family that I awoke that Saturday (the day before Easter) to messages from friends and colleagues asking if it was my family that had endured that nasty moment.

In a moment that I still struggle with, I wrote a response to Jackie Ward in this very space that would propel both Jackie and I into a viral moment that even received international coverage. Not surprising, though, in a year that has been fraught with racial undertones.

So when  we awoke on Easter Sunday, we woke to a slew of messages and emails, many pleasant but some not that nevertheless created a pall over the day for us but we decided that we should still have our brunch, after all we still needed to eat.

When we arrived at your establishment, instead of the stellar service and delicious food that we had come to expect, we were met with a tentative and lackluster server and food that simply was not up to par. In those moments, it is always hard to know if one should speak up or let it go. I opted to speak up and yes, I can be curt and direct in a manner that is off-putting especially if one is used to the faked niceties that are the norm in this area; however, that is not my style. I am never disrespectful and most certainly not belligerent, especially as I had my children with me, but I did express displeasure at the meal. However, never did I see that one failed meal as a reason not to return. Rare is the establishment that doesn’t have the occasional off day. It happens, we are all human and honest criticism in my experience is often welcomed and never seen as a reason to effectively bar a patron.

When I initially called to make reservations for Thanksgiving, I had no reason to assume that anything was amiss. I figured that your filling up was sign of how popular your establishment had become. I honestly didn’t think anything until you sent me that questionable email which did make me wonder what was going on and whether you might have actively ignored our attempts to make reservations. In my original post from several days ago, I did not say that your actions were racist nor did I imply that you are a racist though I did say that in such instances, I do have to wonder if race is an issue. Especially since two days after my last visit to your establishment, my story and face appeared on the front page of the largest paper in the state and I do wonder if that fact colored your view and led you to believe perhaps it was best that I never return to your establishment for fear that a scene might be made.

However, it was your response on your Facebook page that prompted me to write this letter. You mentioned having the best of intentions and assumptions. I know a great deal about both of these and it truly boggles my mind that you would assume that I would not enjoy returning (especially since I was clearly trying to get a reservation). Honestly that is pretty presumptuous and I guess what I don’t understand is why would you not want me to return so that you could have the chance to get it right the next time? I have asked friends in the business and that is typically the standard…not effectively banning a customer. As to your comment about having Black family members, I would imagine in that case you know well how easy then it is to have a misunderstanding across the racial lines that could be seen as potentially racial, do you not? You had to know that telling a Black woman that she is not welcomed in your establishment is suspicious-looking, no matter what the intent. If you remembered me well enough to know I had not been happy during that visit, why didn’t you reach out to me to see how the situation could be corrected? Why didn’t you remember the many good visits I had previously for so many holiday meals? Thanksgiving 2014, my family dined with you and that year, we even sent friends of ours to you as well. I am surprised that only the bad visit was remembered and why banning was the solution.


In any event, I don’t eat at establishments that doesn’t want me; I honestly wouldn’t trust the food to be prepared well at this point.  While we were able to secure reservations at a place that we enjoyed, your “well-meaning” (but hurtful and dismissive) email actually did affect our holiday adversely. In a year that’s been rough, we wanted routine and comfort and we didn’t get it. So while your intent may have been to wish me a happy holiday, it wasn’t. And frankly, I still don’t know how making decisions for me and deciding your restaurant isn’t a fit for us would be something you think I’d appreciate, since I’m an adult and know how to make my own decisions.

I do hope that moving forward, you think about how to handle criticism in a way that doesn’t make a patron feel humiliated and insulted.  Best of luck to you!

Shay Stewart-Bouley
Black Girl in Maine runs on passion, a need to write, and reader support. If you enjoy the musings, I love it if you would please consider making a one-time contribution or becoming a monthly patron. Thank you.

5 thoughts on “An Open Letter to The Chef and The Gardener or my final thoughts on the matter”

  1. “faked niceties that are the norm for this area”: i.e., tact? This post sounds like a lot of rationalizing to avoid facing your own markedly egocentric behavior. It’s always about you, and if it isn’t, you make sure to see that it becomes so.

    • Lynn,

      I don’t deny that I like many others struggle with the ego. However this is a personal blog and while I do mix social commentary on race and life, I do write about myself. It isn’t much different than the work of authors such as Anne Lamott or Elizabeth Gilbert. Two very accomplished writers whose work mixes the personal and larger issues. This particular writing style is not uncommon at all, hell the personal memoir category is filled with many average people who have a story to tell. Yet, I tell a very honest story on my personal blog and I am inundated with people telling me that I was the problem. I never wrote about my last visit to The Chef and the Gardner back in March 2015 because it was a non story to me, we had a less than stellar visit, shit happens. It became a story because I was denied a reservation after expressing that the meal and service wasn’t up to par and when I asked for further clarification, I received no answer. Having done a stint in the service industry decades ago, unhappy patrons aren’t a rarity, it happens.However banning a patron who complained is not common in fact it’s very uncommon. It also may very well be illegal.

  2. And go to the “Contact Us” link.

    You could file a complaint. It would be nice to see them put on notice, or at least have the law explained to them by officials. You don’t want to get lawyered up, but a Commission person could give you good advice, and perhaps send a letter to Chef & Gardener.

    1. If all reservations were filled, they have to say so on their web site.
    2. Their email about you being happier eating elsewhere is problematic to say the least. Having to explain themselves to a government agency would certainly get their attention.
    3. You could tell the Commission that you would like an apology and the public statement of a policy of non-discrimation by C & G, perhaps in their advertising for a specific period.

  3. They still have not replied to my email either…. one I have just resent with your name this time in reference to better make the point. You are so gracious here in sending this new letter ….but it is not you that are the problem here– they are ! And I am just so sick at the way that some Mainers think that they can conduct business. As I said culturally — the reason—- is that they historically have not given such feedback . Tough !

    • My resent To:

      “Since you have not bother to even respond to my email to your establishment…. I am re-sending it . Of course I am referencing the horrible and most un-professional way that you have treated the lovely and gracious , Shay Stewart-Bouley and her family . While her status as a person of color may have played an role here— from my standpoint you were just rude and extremely immature. And seriously either get with it or get out of this business ! Or at least get out of Saco and relocate to some other area that shares your values…..because yours does not fit ours !

      Vi Hayhurst

      Subject: Get with it !
      Date: Wed, 25 Nov 2015 16:01:49 -0500

      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.”

      ..but hi you know that the Saco Museum is having their annual Festival of Trees opening this evening at 5 .. if around come on over and bring the Kiddo (s) ..we could all use a bit of holiday cheer

Comments are closed.