In an article published in The News & Observer on Oct. 4, Andrea Weigl reported that the James Beard Foundation’s restaurant and chef awards committee canceled its upcoming visit to Raleigh in protest against House Bill 2.
I understand the reasoning behind the committee’s decision, especially given the values of the James Beard Foundation. I also believe the committee made a mistake.
As reported in the article, the committee stated that it “had hoped that the condemnation by the NCAA, the NBA and the many members of North Carolina’s restaurant community, would have persuaded North Carolina’s leaders to repeal this outrageous law. As it has not, the subcommittee feels compelled to conduct its business elsewhere.”
As noted, many members of our restaurant community have indeed condemned the “outrageous law” of HB2 – in fact, we’ve gone further than that. We’ve made visible changes to our restaurants and issued public statements ensuring that all of our neighbors feel welcome in our establishments.
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In addition to the numerous restaurants who now offer gender-neutral bathrooms, who have posted signs condemning HB2, and who offer equal employment opportunities to transgender and queer professionals, more than a few of us have been willing to lose business over the issue. One of the most prominent examples is that of Sean Lilly Wilson of Fullsteam Brewery who chose to withdraw from state promotional programs. Others of us have had customers who’ve chosen not to return to our restaurants because of our stance against HB2.
Perhaps it’s because I lived through an embargo in my home country of Haiti, or perhaps it’s because my husband and his family have endured decades under the embargo against Cuba, but I am highly skeptical of boycotts – whether they be state-issued or grassroots. History has proven time and again that embargoes and boycotts don’t actually affect those with the power to make decisions – rather, they hurt most the hardworking men and women who are already suffering the consequences of their leaders’ bad decisions.
Gov. Pat McCrory and the members of North Carolina’s state legislature frankly do not care whether or not the James Beard Foundation takes an interest in the Triangle area’s restaurants and chefs. After all, we’ve been a thorn in their sides already.
Do you know who does care? We care. Our patrons care. The transgender and queer servers, line cooks and managers care. And right now, more than ever, we all need support.
I suggest an alternative option to the James Beard Foundation’s boycott: Come to the Triangle. Eat our food. Drink our cocktails. Shake our hands. Make a point to frequent the restaurants who have publicly denounced HB2. Share a meal with us in solidarity instead of punishing us for a law we already oppose.
When the Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau asked a Facebook group of restaurant owners to help them compile a list of all of our city’s restaurants who have gone on record opposing HB2, they received dozens of responses in a matter of hours, and that list is still growing.
I am certain the Bureau would be delighted to share that list with the James Beard Foundation’s restaurant and chef awards committee; I’m equally certain the committee members would be delighted to see the businesses of several James Beard Award Semifinalists listed, including Sean Lilly Wilson, Matthew Kelly, and Andrea Reusing.
And should the committee members choose to stop in at Old Havana Sandwich Shop between meetings, we’d be so very happy to share a cafecito with them in the spirit of good, old-fashioned hospitality.
Elizabeth Turnbull co-owns Old Havana Sandwich Shop, a farm-to-table Cuban restaurant in downtown Durham with her husband Roberto Copa Matos who is also the chef.