A brewery in Ohio is facing severe backlash after U.S. Senate candidate Josh Mandel tweeted a photo of himself and a server at the establishment, praising the server for coming to work while sick. Both were pictured maskless.
The business, Inside the Five, is operated by two former National Football League players, Chris Morris and Brandon Fields. Mandel, a Republican from Ohio, stopped in for lunch and posted on Aug. 20 about his experience at the brewery on Twitter.
Mandel praised the Perrysburg location of the "cool" brewery for its "great food and spirited waitresses."
"Even though Brianne was sick today, she came to work because she knew they were short servers," Mandel tweeted. "These are the type of American workers that make our country strong."
The tweet quickly garnered lots of attention, and many criticized the server for coming to work sick. Others were angered that Mandel was encouraging going to work while feeling ill, especially in a pandemic, while some believed the restaurant was to blame.
Ohio Representative Tim Ryan, a Democrat who is also running for Senate, also criticized Mandel's comments.
"If you were serious about celebrating workers, you’d join me in calling for higher wages & paid time off," Ryan tweeted. "Telling people to go to work sick – whether COVID or a cold – and then attacking small businesses to score political points is gross, Josh. Grow up."
Morris, one of the co-owners of the business, told TODAY Food he didn't know the server was feeling ill. The establishment did not share an update on the server's condition.
"It's our policy for all of our employees that are feeling any symptoms of anything to inform management before they came in," Morris said. "This particular server, she was experiencing some nasal congestion from what she considered to be allergies, and unfortunately did not report that to us. As soon as we were made aware, we sent her home and asked her to get a COVID test." She was not fired.
Morris said that Mandel, who has referred to coronavirus mitigation measures like masks as "tyranny" on social media, has not reached out to the restaurant since the controversy. He did not respond to multiple requests for comment from TODAY, either, but he did post a follow-up on Twitter accusing the brewery of "giving into the woke mob."
"How bout having your employee's back and giving her a raise," Mandel tweeted. "While so many people are getting paid to sit home and do nothing, Brianne muscled through feeling under the weather and came to WORK."
Mandel's second tweet seems to reference those receiving extended unemployment benefits during the pandemic. Some politicians have criticized these benefits and suggested that they have led to a shortage of workers in the service industry, but some research has indicated that those on unemployment were actually more likely to look for other jobs. In Ohio, those supplemental benefits, which gave those on unemployment an extra $300 per week, were ended in late June.
Morris said it has been "very difficult" to deal with the backlash from Mandel's posts, especially since, like many other restaurants across the country, it has been "very tough" for Inside the Five to stay afloat during the pandemic.
Since the controversy, the establishment "temporarily paused" its Facebook and Instagram accounts "due to the threatening and inaccurate posts people were leaving on them," said Morris. "We have never used our Twitter account, so reports of us removing this are false."
"We spent a long time building our social media presence and being good people to the community," he said. "We didn't ask for this to happen. We don't have any political affiliation; we leave politics at the door. Our business is to make good beer and good food and provide a good experience to our guests. … We take this pandemic extremely seriously and the health of our staff and our patrons is the top priority. It's been really tough."
"We didn't ask for this," he added. "We definitely didn't ask him to come in and do this."