Red Mill Burgers is a highly rated local burger chain with restaurants in Ballard, Phinney Ridge and Interbay. It's known for its stacks of bacon. Now, the chain's owner is becoming known for something else: alleged sexism and transphobia. Classism, too. (UPDATE: The owner has apologized. See below.)
People are calling for a boycott.
A Facebook user with the name John Shepherd—the same name as the owner of Red Mill—is one of the garbage people who directed misogynist vitriol toward the five city council members who voted against vacating an alleyway for a potential Sonics arena. Last week, the user wrote, "I am sure all the bitches on the city council are celebrating their coup. I hate every single one of them."
I e-mailed Shepherd seeking comment yesterday and have not heard back. The Facebook user has since deleted the post. John Shepherd is a fairly common name, but this particular Facebook user's profile picture—a distinctive blue classic car and mustachioed driver—matches a post on the Red Mill Facebook page with the same car identifying Shepherd as the owner. The user belongs to Phinney Neighbor Association group, has posted repeatedly about Red Mill, and identifies himself as a member of the Red Mill team on this page.
In other posts, the user compared transgender women to dogs:
When Heidi reported last month on a group of NIMBYs attempting to map where homeless people live, the John Shepherd Facebook user wrote, "The Stranger is the most fucked publication in the City and anyone who believes the garbage printed here is a fool, and part of the problem of ridding of the criminals living in tents and claiming they are innocent homeless people!
In yet another post, the user tagged City Council Member Mike O'Brien and wrote, "i heard you have been picking up trash around district6, well you have missed a shitload right across the street from The Red Mill Totem House!!!"
And over on City Council Member Mike O'Brien's official blog, a commenter who signed his name as "John shepherd owner red mill burgers!!!" called on the city to arrest "all the thieves and junkies, that are all over market street and causing havoc for all the buisnessmen" [sic].
On Sunday, former Stranger writer and Bureau of Fearless Ideas Creative Director David Schmader took to his Facebook page to say he plans to boycott Red Mill. Nearly five hundred people have shared his post since then.
The Seattle Review of Books' Paul Constant joined him on Tuesday:
I've never been there and I don't plan on going.
UPDATE 8:10 p.m.: Red Mill Burgers just sent me this apologetic statement. Shepherd says he is stepping down from the company:
An Open Letter from John Shepherd
I am writing this letter to apologize for my offensive language and behavior in addressing a number of issues concerning our community, and those who have opinions with which I disagree.
For example, I am passionate about our city’s inability to adequately address our community’s homeless issue. As a recovering heroin addict, 33 years clean and sober, I have very strong opinions on how the addiction epidemic and the issue of homelessness go hand in hand.
Over the years, I’ve been a vocal advocate for real-world solutions surrounding this issue and like many people, I’ve found myself frustrated with the lack of meaningful response by our city leaders. I’ve also been unsatisfied with city leaders’ approaches to issues of growth, zoning, and their overall visions for our community. I am proud to be a native of Seattle and I care deeply about our great city.
While I am not sorry about my disapproval around our city’s leadership, I am horribly sorry for the ways I voiced that disapproval.
I have absolutely no excuse for my use of offensive language. It was wrong by any standard. I apologize for my comments and am reaching out to those I’ve personally offended to offer my regrets directly.
Similarly, I make no excuses for sharing posts on Facebook poking fun at the current debate around access to bathrooms. I shared a handful of cartoons others posted that I thought satirized the debate in a humorous way. Those who know me understand that I support the position of LGBTQ community. In reflection, I can see how the cartoons are offensive, and I apologize.
Finally, I want to acknowledge that people are understandably angry with me. I’ve demonstrated poor judgment. I think it is important, though, that my behavior not punish the employees of Red Mill Burgers who work hard every day to serve our beloved customers. My comments were mine alone, and do not represent the other owners of Red Mill Burgers, or the good men and woman who work there.
Effective immediately, I am stepping down from my role at Red Mill Burgers indefinitely. I’ve met with my sister Babe, my brother Michael, and others within the organization and conveyed to them that I need to turn over control and operations in order to reflect on my actions.
Finally, I pledge that while I will not remain silent about critical issues I think are important to our community, I will advocate and express my views in a way that is respectful to all involved.