Thought No. 6: Sunday / by Jennifer Wisniewski

"Kick 'em when they're up. Kick 'em when they're down."

The story to follow may be a bit more serious than most, but it has been on my mind – and hell, it’s my blog and I can write what I want. Restaurateur, Karyn Calabrese (owner of Karyn’s Raw and popular published author) has been in the “news” lately.  As I tip-toed through the tulips on Facebook (which, most of the time, I wonder why I do), I read a factual story about her lawsuit and landlord. Oh, but wait ... there was another, more titillating story: an employee penning a letter about a multitude of unseemly business practices. I watched as people shared the story and made harsh comments (that they were furiously convinced she deserved), but then I thought: “What if all this we’re reading about Karyn isn’t even true?” Obviously the lawsuit is true and factual – but the other things floating around are simply gossip, at this point.  

Even if everyone thinks she’s now the vegan Cruella Deville, I think about her and wonder how she gets out of bed in the morning, after reading such things. Does she dress in a wig and big, black sunglasses to visit the grocery store? (Oh wait, no – we have Instacart for that now.) I know her two daughters and wonder how they are affected.

I/we have all seen this kind of public condemning become too much for a person. Very recently, a chef and dear friend decided to take his own life, after a string of negative press last year. While there are a multitude of reasons why one would make such a choice, I would be naive to assume it didn’t play a part.  

How do we as business owners protect and stand up for ourselves from an employee or blogger who says horrible things publicly? Isn’t this a form of bullying? What are we teaching our children, when someone isn’t given the benefit of the doubt, or the chance to be innocent until proven guilty? Wouldn’t we want that for ourselves, should someone accuse us of something awful? I don’t know Karyn personally, but I do know one thing: employees can be just as ill-behaved. They are simply just not as public – and so, not as fun to humiliate, apparently.

A story from the Washington City Paper came out this week about Fig & Olive’s business practices. It’s important that credible news sources keep businesses transparent and honest, especially if those businesses are making people sick. The public needs to know and that’s a job for the CDC, but there are always two sides to every story. On the side we don’t see – there are people losing their jobs, homes and life savings, when false and harmful stories are spread.

Owning any business is hard enough – but owning a restaurant (and keeping it open) is almost impossible. You are automatically entered into a public forum, when you put yourself out there and create something. Karyn Calabrese was in business for 20+ years. In all the social media commentary I read about her I didn’t see anyone defend her. I don’t know if that says something about her personally, or our society - but either way: it’s disheartening.  

My hope is that, when it’s my turn (after some ex-employee decides to publicly skewer me), someone will stick up for me and say: “She offered me a job, when I needed it” or “She gave me an opportunity to learn in a happy and safe environment” or even that “She was a good person”.

One can hope all day long, but I'm pretty convinced I’ll just be another Frankenstein ... running from the villagers.

I better work on that eight minute mile.