First, the customer posted her version of events on Facebook Live right after the encounter. Then the 22-year-old server put her own version on Facebook on Friday, in a post that is no longer public. From there, the story has taken on a life of its own — with seemingly unbridgeable positions on both sides and threats from strangers.
The server, who asked to be identified solely by her first name, Hannah, because of fears of violent threats, said she had been working at Open City for six months when the incident occurred in late July.
Two women had walked in during the early part of her shift that day, and she said she smiled at them in her usual way until she noticed one of the women was wearing a Trump 2020 “Keep America Great” pin. She stopped smiling but continued with the transaction, she said.
The woman, Jacqueline Johanning, asked her what was wrong. That’s when Hannah responded, “I don’t appreciate that you’re wearing that pin.”
After the women sat down, Hannah’s manager brought part of their order. On his way back, Hannah said the manager told her that the two women had asked to be reimbursed. At that point, the second woman, who was not wearing a campaign pin, walked to the counter where Hannah was standing and asked for the refund.
“I’m glad you think this is funny, but the review I write later won’t be funny,” Hannah recalled the woman saying, after telling the server she felt discriminated against.
Hannah said she then retorted, “As a queer, low-income woman, it’s funny to me you think that’s discrimination.” The story was first reported Saturday by Washington City Paper. Open City, which is operated by Tryst Trading Company, leases space from the Cathedral but is not affiliated with the Cathedral or the Episcopal Church.
Johanning, 45, who had been visiting the city for a week from Mico, Tex., agreed with Hannah’s description of the encounter.
The 20-year Air Force veteran told The Washington Post that she and her friend enjoyed chatting with Hannah about the menu and had asked Hannah for her recommendation: the chicken noodle soup, despite the summer heat. After Johanning shifted her backpack to pay, revealing her campaign pin, she said Hannah’s demeanor quickly grew cold.
In the video Johanning posted publicly to Facebook Live on the day of the exchange, she said she and her friend felt uncomfortable and thought they should leave.
“It should never cross over the counter,” Johanning told The Post. “I, as the customer, should never know that’s her view.”
Johanning said she told the manager that if they didn’t feel welcome because of their conservative values, they should get their money back, and the manager agreed. She said she felt for the first time that she was being discriminated against because of her political views.
“I love every person and think they should have their right to feel what they feel,” Johanning told The Post. “My money is just as good as anyone else’s.”
Looking back on her own video, which now has nearly 2,000 views, Johanning said events went in a vitriolic direction she never intended. One user commented, “Burn it to the ground,” a statement Johanning said she disagrees with.
“It took off like wildfire,” Johanning said. “I think the real message got lost in everybody’s personal biases.”
Meanwhile, Hannah was fired from her job on July 29, and Hannah and the company disagree about the reason. Hannah believes it was directly related to the July 26 encounter, while the restaurant pointed to another incident involving the server.
After the women left, Hannah said she continued her day as usual before the general manager called and sent her home. The manager then took Hannah off the weekend schedule and asked her to come in for a meeting July 29. That meeting lasted an hour and a half, Hannah said.
Before firing her, Hannah said the general manager told her she violated company values with her behavior. Hannah said she was told that the manager on duty the day of the incident was receiving threatening phone calls and that people were threatening to burn the restaurant down.
The manager on duty, who had taken the customers’ initial complaint, declined to comment on Tuesday.
Officials at Tryst Trading Company said Hannah’s firing was based on her overall performance, including a previous incident in March in which Hannah slipped a note to a customer that told her the man she was with was under investigation for allegedly raping someone. Hannah said that incident was not mentioned as a reason for her termination.
“As a company, our purpose statement is to build meaningful connections. . . . That goes for our employees to guest, guest to employees, employees to employees,” said the company’s chief operations officer, Shannon Trexler. “We want everyone to feel welcome in all of our spaces and those are the expectations we have for our staff.”
Trexler said the company handled this incident as it would a similar situation in which an employee violated company rules.
In its own Facebook post after the incident, Open City wrote, “There’s enough politics in this town already; let’s work to keep OCNC, your neighborhood cafe, a place where politics is kept off the menu.”
“There was no discrimination that had gone on,” Hannah said. “I had really just expressed my opinion and not until I had been asked what I felt. My comment to her was there are groups that are discriminated against in this administration and I’m a member of them. . . . It really just contextualizes that you don’t understand what’s going on.”
Hannah said she doesn’t think Trump supporters should be banned or asked to leave but that they should realize they may get a reaction when they are visibly supporting the president.
“Speech goes two ways,” Hannah said.
Johanning said her exchange with Hannah at Open City should have provided a teachable moment. And she doesn’t think Hannah should have been fired.
“We don’t have to hate each other just because of our political views,” Johanning said. “We can still be kind and . . . agree to disagree. Don’t let that define us. I think the labels are preventing our vision.”