By Alyssa Lukpat
New York Times
Three uniformed San Francisco police officers sat down for a meal Friday at an all-day breakfast restaurant.
But it was not long before staff members of the restaurant, Hilda and Jesse, “felt uncomfortable with the presence of their multiple weapons” and “politely asked” the officers to leave, the restaurant said on Instagram on Saturday.
That request drew widespread attention, with the San Francisco police chief criticizing the move and hundreds of people leaving negative ratings on the restaurant’s Yelp page.
Police Chief William Scott said in a statement on Twitter: “The San Francisco Police Department stands for safety with respect, even when it means respecting wishes that our officers and I find discouraging and personally disappointing.
“I believe the vast majority of San Franciscans welcome their police officers, who deserve to know that they are appreciated for the difficult job we ask them to do — in their uniforms — to keep our neighborhoods and businesses safe.”
In its statement Saturday, the restaurant doubled down, saying that it would welcome members of the Police Department “when they are off duty, out of uniform, and without their weapons.”
“This is not a political statement, we did what we thought was best for our staff,” the restaurant added.
In a separate statement, Rachel Sillcocks, one of the owners of Hilda and Jesse, said: “Our restaurant is a safe space — particularly for queer and bipoc individuals. Furthermore, the fact that they were in uniform with multiple weapons on them made our staff uncomfortable, and potentially other guests.
“We’re sorry that the decision upset you,” she continued. “We understand your perspective and we hope you’ll consider ours.”
On Sunday, the owners of the restaurant, Kristina Liedags Compton and Sillcocks, apologized on Instagram.
“We hope this will be a teachable moment for us as we repair and continue to build bridges with the SFPD,” the statement said, adding that “we handled this badly.”
The restaurant and the Police Department did not respond to emails and phone calls Sunday night.
However, Sillcocks told KGO-TV on Sunday the restaurant’s response had “nothing to do with the fact that they were officers.”
“It is about the fact that we do not allow weapons in our restaurant,” she said.
S.F. Supervisor Dean Preston said on Twitter on Sunday “armed police make some folks feel safer and others feel less safe.”
“That’s just a fact,” he said.
The owners’ apology came too late to stop a torrent of angry Yelp reviewers, who left hundreds of one-star reviews on the restaurant’s page. Many of the reviewers were not based in San Francisco and had nothing to say about the restaurant’s selection of breakfast foods, including pancakes and avocado on sweet potato.
Instead, some of the reviewers criticized the restaurant’s decision to ask the officers to leave and called for a boycott, while others supported the request.
“I refuse to eat here again because you refused to serve on-duty police officers,” one reviewer wrote in a one-star review.
Another reviewer from San Francisco left a five-star review, writing, “Thanks but I don’t want a gun with my waffles,” and adding that “San Francisco is San Francisco for a reason!”
The restaurant Sunday averaged a one-star rating, although Yelp “temporarily disabled” new reviews on the page.
What happened at Hilda and Jesse is not the first time that restaurants have drawn attention for asking officers to leave or refusing them service.
In 2019, six police officers said they were asked to leave a Starbucks in Tempe, Arizona, after an “anxious, nervous or uncomfortable” customer asked a barista why the officers were there. The coffee company apologized on Twitter and in full-page newspaper ads, and the hashtag #BoycottStarbucks picked up steam on social media.
In 2015, within weeks of each other, two employees refused service to police officers at popular chains in two different states, but then said they were joking.
One was an employee at Dunkin’ Donuts, now known as Dunkin’, who spotted a police officer in the back of the line in West Hartford, Connecticut, and then announced, “He didn’t get the message; we don’t serve cops here.” The other was an employee of an Arby’s in Pembroke Pines, Florida, who refused to serve a uniformed police officer at a drive-thru window.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.