A Burlington restaurant owner has come under fire after he posted on Facebook that "junkies should detox or die," leading to a flurry of calls to boycott his business.
Magnolia Bistro owner Shannon Reilly wrote the inflammatory comment on Friday in response to a post by Mayor Miro Weinberger, who shared a Seven Days article about the city's efforts to more quickly provide buprenorphine to drug users seeking treatment. Buprenorphine, also referred to as bupe or its commercial name, Suboxone, is an opioid that mitigates heroin withdrawal symptoms and cravings.
"The junkies should detox or die," Reilly wrote. "Sorry. So fuckin pathetic employing people spaced out on bupe. Fuckin useless. Let them die."
Reilly also took a shot at Weinberger: "F U Wondeboy. Stop trying to act like you are doing anything good for this town! You deserved to be buried under that mall you douchbag," he wrote, apparently referring to the redevelopment of the Burlington Town Center, which has been rechristened CityPlace Burlington.
The comments came to light after Scott Pavek, a Burlington resident who advocates for safe injection sites and opiate treatment, took a screenshot of Reilly's comment and then posted it Friday on Twitter .
"This comment from the owner of Magnolia Bistro shows what we are up against. A lot of stigma to address here in #btv," Pavek wrote.
Others on Twitter called for a boycott. "@MagnoliaVT followers please: 1. Unfollow 2. Boycott 3. Retweet," wrote Tom Dalton, who advocated for the buprenorphine program and is director of Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform.
"When the owner doesn't back the values, morals, and human decency that I expect of those around me and in my community I'll take my business elsewhere every time," one Facebook user wrote in a review on Magnolia's page the day after Reilly's post.
The restaurateur later deleted his comments and, in an interview Monday with Seven Days, walked back his comments and apologized for the post. "I deeply regret what I said because it was very uncompassionate," he said.
Reilly said he opposes Weinberger's decision to provide buprenorphine, but in response, "said the totally wrong thing."
CC @MagnoliaVT - maybe your owner could take some pointers from this community-centered, compassionate approach. Was really sorry to see their recent remarks & will not be returning to your establishment. https://t.co/GuQZUxmre9
He also maintained he was singled out as a business owner and subjected to a "digital lynch mob." On Saturday, he said, he addressed the issue with his employees at the restaurant. "We’re just adamant that’s not Magnolia’s beliefs," Reilly said he told them.
The outrage could wreak havoc on his business, he acknowledged, which is just now "starting to gain traction." Reilly, who opened the restaurant in 2006, said he's considering hiring a public relations consultant to help respond appropriately to the outrage. By Monday afternoon, Reilly had not publicly addressed the comments.
"I feel like an apology is in order," he told Seven Days. Reilly added that he doesn't want to draw attention to the original comment and wants to find an appropriate venue to respond: "I don’t know the best way to go about it."
As for Pavek? He took his business elsewhere: "Breakfast at Mirabelle's this morning was excellent," he wrote on Saturday, referring to the Main Street café.
In a written message to Seven Days on Monday, Pavek said he wants "to bring attention to stigmatization of substance use disorder and educate others."
"Dialogue would be an an accomplishment. Bringing attention to the issue in itself," he said. "Maybe Magnolia will decide to host a benefit for Safe Recovery. I want some good to come of this."
Writing the wrong thing on social media can quickly lead to unintended consequences. Burlington Free Press editor Denis Finley was fired in January after he suggested in a tweet that recognizing a third gender on Vermont driver's licenses "makes us one step closer to the apocalypse."
Reilly hopes to staunch the damage. "I generally leave a trail of goodness wherever I go," he said, adding that he'd learned his lesson: "The worst situations [create] the largest opportunities for growth."
It's not the only controversy in which Reilly is embroiled. He recently reignited an ongoing feud with the Burlington Farmers Market, which sets up each summer Saturday at City Hall Park, across the street from Magnolia's location at 1 Lawson Lane.
Market executive director Chris Wagner ordered several $25 Magnolia gift certificates he planned to put in baskets to raffle off at the weekly event. Reilly, though, sent Wagner a customized batch with a set of "Fun Facts" on the back: "The location of the Farmers market is hurting local businesses and the parks ecology," Reilly wrote. "Farmers market management has been unresponsive to its neighbors concerns."
The message on the gift certificates
Reilly contends that the market draws shoppers away from local business owners and damages the grass and trees at the park. He also voiced his support forthe citizen group Keep the Park Green, which is fighting city plans to redevelop the public space.
"It’s not fair for you to close down streets, take over parking and then undercut merchants in front of their brick-and-mortar businesses that are paying high rent all week long," Reilly said, adding that he loses 100 customers and $2,000 each Saturday when the market is open. "The farmers market has completely ignored the small businesses around them."
When Wagner saw what Reilly had written, he instead mailed the certificates to area businesses and "friends of market" who "appreciate the draw that the market has." Wagner also included a letter explaining the unconventional certificates and affirming the market's commitment to working with neighboring business owners. Wagner sent one of the letters and a gift certificate to Seven Days' advertising department.
The snarky certificates didn't sit well with members of Keep the Park Green, either. Monique Fordham, one of the group's leaders, sent Reilly an email about them last Friday.
"Keep The Park Green was not consulted before you issued these Magnolia 'joke' gift certificates with our name on it and regardless of any good intentions you may have had, that was improper and possibly harmful to our cause," Fordham wrote. "KTPG has been working so hard to protect the trees, and while we want to encourage everyone who cares about them to speak up, it's not appropriate for you to put our name and Facebook page on these certificates —that are designed to highlight the problems of businesses surrounding the Farmers Market — without checking with us first."