California restaurant temporarily closes after BLM mask backlash

The Girl and the Fig in Sonoma has closed its doors after a server posted about her experience wearing a BLM mask last year

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Back in September, server Kimi Stout was informed of new rules at her place of employment, The Girl and the Fig Restaurant in northern California.

According to Newsweek, Stout had already been wearing her Black Lives Matters mask, but a new mask policy was instituted that included wearing either a plain blue or black mask or one with the restaurant’s logo.

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When Stout wore her BLM mask anyway, believing that it was OK, she was told that she was not in compliance with the new policy and would be sent home if she didn’t wear the appropriate mask. She told her manager that in that case, she’d just quit.

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A woman with mask at the Black Lives Matter protest in Holyrood Park on June 7, 2020 in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

But in an Instagram video Stout posted recently, showing her toss a The Girl and the Fig T-shirt into the trash, she says she felt forced to quit her job as the company’s president, John Toulze, told her the BLM mask was “too political.”

Stout, who appears to identify as BIPOC via her social media posts, says that she didn’t think wearing the mask would be an issue, despite the new policy.

“I’m not saying that they wrote the policy for me, but I felt very targeted when I read it,” Stout told SFGate.

“I decided that I was going to wear my mask anyway, because as far as I knew, the president of the company, I had his 100 percent support.”

Stout acknowledged that she chose to quit on principle because she found that the policy “valued a uniform policy over showing support for marginalized lives,” per ABC7.

After Stout’s video was posted in January, the restaurant initially said that she was simply in violation of their new mask policy, per SF Gate.

“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,” the restaurant posted on its Facebook page on Wednesday.

However, the restaurant had a seeming change of heart after Stout’s video went viral, prompting a backlash in the form of negative reviews on Yelp, (which were paused due to a Yelp policy that prohibits reviews that are not based on actual experience at a business) and, as Toulze told the San Francisco Chronicle, death threats, threats to burn the building down and a planned BLM protest on Sunday.

“There’s no amount of money in the world that’s worth it to ask my staff to walk through that and to ask my customers to walk through that,” Toulze said, per Newsweek.

The restaurant shut down temporarily and issued a new statement on Thursday, also via Facebook.

“The girl & the fig prides itself in creating an inclusive, diverse and welcoming environment for our staff and our guests since we began 23 years ago,” the company wrote. “We thought we understood the Black Lives Matter movement and were being appropriately supportive. The events of this past week have demonstrated that we have more learning and listening to do to deepen awareness of the right ways to be the best advocate we can be for the Black community.”

Saying they were “forever changed” by the situation, the restaurant also said they would pay their workers for the week the restaurant has been closed, that they would do a mandatory diversity training for all staff and become part of the 15 Percent Pledge, which asks businesses to set aside 15% of shelf space for products from Black-owned businesses.

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For her part, Stout is proud of the change she helped institute. In an Instagram Stories video captured by SFGate, she said that instead of a protest on Sunday, she’d like to see a celebration.

“What if this Sunday’s demonstration turns into a celebration? That we won, that we are stronger together, that we can be better together if we hold each other accountable? Let’s celebrate that we’re making a difference,” she said.

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