John Shepherd, the owner of Red Mill Burgers, the popular burger bar with locations in Phinney Ridge and Interbay, got into hot water earlier this week over comments he made on his Facebook about the current national controversy about transgender bathroom rights and the Seattle City Council’s recent decision to turn down a street closure request which would have aided local backers of a new sports arena in the Sodo neighborhood. Shepherd was accused of sharing transphobic memes on his Facebook. He also referred to the five female members of the Seattle City Council who voted against the street closure as “bitches” in separate comments.
Those candid remarks spread throughout the local social media world and there was soon boycotts started against Shepherd and Red Mill Burgers. Local media picked up the story and both Red Mill and Shepherd came under increased pressure to apologize for his remarks. Late Wednesday night, May 11th, Shepherd took to Facebook to issue an apology and announce he was stepping down from his leadership role at Red Mill which he owns with other members of the Shepherd family.
I am writing this letter to apologize for my offensive language and behavior in addressing a number of issues concerning our community, and those who have opinions with which I disagree.
For example, I am passionate about our city’s inability to adequately address our community’s homeless issue. As a recovering heroin addict, 33 years clean and sober, I have very strong opinions on how the addiction epidemic and the issue of homelessness go hand in hand.
Over the years, I’ve been a vocal advocate for real-world solutions surrounding this issue and like many people, I’ve found myself frustrated with the lack of meaningful response by our city leaders. I’ve also been unsatisfied with city leaders’ approaches to issues of growth, zoning, and their overall visions for our community. I am proud to be a native of Seattle and I care deeply about our great city.
While I am not sorry about my disapproval around our city’s leadership, I am horribly sorry for the ways I voiced that disapproval.
I have absolutely no excuse for my use of offensive language. It was wrong by any standard. I apologize for my comments and am reaching out to those I’ve personally offended to offer my regrets directly.
Similarly, I make no excuses for sharing posts on Facebook poking fun at the current debate around access to bathrooms. I shared a handful of cartoons others posted that I thought satirized the debate in a humorous way. Those who know me understand that I support the position of LGBTQ community. In reflection, I can see how the cartoons are offensive, and I apologize.
Finally, I want to acknowledge that people are understandably angry with me. I’ve demonstrated poor judgment. I think it is important, though, that my behavior not punish the employees of Red Mill Burgers who work hard every day to serve our beloved customers. My comments were mine alone, and do not represent the other owners of Red Mill Burgers, or the good men and women who work there.
Effective immediately, I am stepping down from my role at Red Mill Burgers indefinitely. I’ve met with my sister Babe, my brother Michael, and others within the organization and conveyed to them that I need to turn over control and operations in order to reflect on my actions.
Finally, I pledge that while I will not remain silent about critical issues I think are important to our community, I will advocate and express my views in a way that is respectful to all involved.
Shepherd doesn’t indicate if and when he would potentially return to the business.