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ONTARIO: The owners of this Red Hen did not snub the White House's press secretary

But a campaign intended to target a Virginia restaurant for a political event briefly engulfed the Collingwood diner just the same
Jim Meridis and Diane Smith are the co-owners of the Olde Red Hen in Collingwood, Ontario. Not to be confused by the Red Hen in Virginia mentioned in Donald Trump's recent tweet. Erika Engel/CollingwoodToday

As Americans waged war on a Virginia restaurant, a Collingwood diner was caught in the crossfire.

On Friday night (June 22) around 11:30 p.m. Diane Smith, co-owner of the Olde Red Hen diner in Collingwood, started getting an unusually high amount of notifications from her restaurant Facebook page, all of them for angry, negative reviews posted to the page.

Smith called her manager to ask what happened in the restaurant that day, but it was a quiet, very typical day for the 50s diner as they served breakfast and lunch like normal. That’s when Smith learned about Sarah Sanders, White House press secretary, and a restaurant named the Red Hen in Lexington, Virginia.

Sanders was dining at the Red Hen in Virginia when she was asked to leave. The restaurant owners told reporters it was related to her support of Trump’s stance on banning transgender people from the military. There’s been significant backlash, including a tweet from Trump calling the restaurant “filthy.”

“I said, ‘what is happening? Donald Trump is ruining my life,’” said Smith.

While Smith wasn’t at the restaurant on Friday, she was pretty sure Donald Trump’s press secretary didn’t eat there, and was more sure nobody got kicked out of her restaurant. She and her manager started digging and found the negative reviews posted to the Collingwood Olde Red Hen page were coming from Facebook users based in the United States. Her Trip Advisor listing also took a hit.

Smith started messaging those who were posting reviews to explain her restaurant was in Ontario. Soon she said there were more than 100 notifications, and she gave up messaging individuals.

The comments accused the Olde Red Hen of “bigotry,” suggested the owners should close the doors and stop serving “slop.” Some Facebook users asked if the Olde Red Hen was in the habit of kicking out patrons.

She made a post on her Facebook page asking people to disregard comments and reviews made on June 22, 23 and 24 because they were in response to an incident that occured at a different and unaffiliated restaurant.

“It could happen to anybody,” said Smith.

Smith told the story to a few customers, most of which didn’t know about Sanders and the Virginia Red Hen restaurant. Soon, she received more notifications, this time about five-star reviews on her page.

“I’m overwhelmed by people who have come to my defence,” said Smith. “Even Americans were posting, then they got into fights with other Americans.”

Smith said she received apologies from most of the people who mistook her restaurant for the one in Virginia, and nearly all the negative reviews have been taken down. Her Facebook rating is now 4.9 stars, with 191 reviews posted to the site.

One particular negative review by a Facebook user who’s profile indicates he lives in North Carolina remains. It was posted on June 23 and has more than 50 comments with some heated arguments between commenters and the poster.

“It has just turned around,” said Smith. “I’m thankful to the community. All I’m getting is love.”

The Olde Red Hen has been in Collingwood for 75 years. Smith and her husband Jim Meridis have been the owners for 20 years.

Smith said they have a strong base of regular customers who are locals, or who always stop at the Olde Red Hen on their way through Collingwood.

“We have a good clientele and good staff,” said Smith. “We serve everybody.”

The Olde Red Hen is located at 146 Hurontario Street in Collingwood, Ontario, Canada.