A popular Sonoma restaurant said Wednesday it temporarily shut its doors after receiving backlash over a former employee's assertion that she was forced to quit for wearing a Black Lives Matter mask to work, according to a report in the San Francisco Chronicle.
A spokesman for The Girl & The Fig told the newspaper the French-inspired eatery made the decision to close after learning of plans for a Valentine's Day protest at the restaurant.
Though server Kimi Stout's last day on the job was Sept. 3, and she had kept the departure private for months, she decided on Jan. 1 to post a video to social media showing her stripping off her The Girl & The Fig shirt, tossing it in the a garbage can and flipping her two middle fingers at it.
In the post, Stout described her departure from the restaurant:
"On September 3rd, 2020, I was forced out of my position as a server at The Girl and the Fig restaurant in Sonoma, CA for refusing to remove my 'Black Lives Matter' mask after a new mask policy was put into place. I was told by the president of the company that if I did not change my mask I would not be allowed to work and that BLM is 'too political.' I asked him why I was being forced out when only three weeks previous he said I had his '100% support.' He simply responded, 'Yes I did, but that was before the policy.'"
The restaurant released a statement Wednesday on Facebook, saying in part: "We have been quiet for too long. This entire incident has exploded over an employee that did not want to follow the rules. Plain and simple. We did not fire her, we did not force her out, she made her own decision to quit because she did not want to follow the rules. She was actually a very good server and we were sorry to lose her."
The story dates back to August when Stout returned to serve outdoor diners at the restaurant after being laid off in March because of pandemic restrictions. She was wearing a BLM mask, and even though at least one customer had complained, she got support from the company's president, John Toulze, she told the Chronicle.
Toulze was the one who gave Stout the ultimatum on Sept. 3, she told the newspaper.
Toulze held a virtual press conference Thursday morning with his side of the story. He said both he and his restaurant fully support the Black Lives Matter movement, but he doesn’t think the messaging should be part of the restaurant uniform.
“While we support it, we didn’t think that was the place for it to be,” he said. “We believe in having a uniform policy. It’s very consistent, we want folks to wear professional attire and be presented in a certain way.”
Toulze said he’s proud of the eatery’s support of diversity and equality, but he also believes there is always room to improve. That’s why he said the restaurant will now accelerate plans to hold diversity training, and will aim to purchase 15% of goods from Black-owned businesses.
Stout said that’s a step in the right direction, but not enough, adding that she doesn’t support threats of violence against the restaurant.
“I would like to see an establishment that would not actively take action to stop somebody from showing support for a social justice movement,” she said.