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PB&J Cafe next to Boston Children's Museum sparks outrage by allergy-conscious parents

One concerned parent said the fear of contamination from kids' fingers would keep her away from the museum.
Close up of peanut butter spread
For some people with a peanut allergy, even tiny amounts of peanuts can cause anaphylaxis, a serious reaction that can even be life-threatening.Maren Caruso / Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

The Boston Children's Museum is a favorite among families in Beantown, but now a newly opened café has some parents saying they'll never return unless big changes are made. On November 27, the museum announced on Facebook that the brand new PB&J Café was open inside the museum for "delicious bites and refreshments," but parents of children with food allergies were left with a bad taste in their mouths over the inclusion of peanuts on the menu and in the name.

"We are thrilled to announce that Stonewall Kitchen's new PB&J cafe is NOW OPEN inside the Boston Children’s Museum building!" read the post, which featured pictures of a wreath made of blueberries around Stonewall's Wild Maine Blueberry Jam, the staff wearing masks and ready to serve and even a chalkboard with the cafe's menu posted on it. "Come on in for delicious bites and refreshments—the perfect pairing after a trip to the Museum!"

And while not all of the cafe's offerings included peanut butter, many parents called the move tone-deaf, writing in the comments of the post that they would be unlikely to ever patronize the museum again for fear of their kids' safety.

"This is so CRAZY and out of touch!" posted one parent. "Why would the Children's Museum decide that it's a good idea to feature a major allergen on their menu AND name their restaurant after it?! Boston Children's Museum PEANUTS ARE THE MOST LIKELY FOOD TO CAUSE ANAPHYLAXIS AND DEATH, you might wanna rethink your menu/name. The Children's Museum is no longer safe for allergy families."

According to a research report in the journal, Pediatrics, more kids have food allergies these days, but not as many as their parents believe. Slightly more than 2 percent of the kids in the survey had peanut allergies. According to the Mayo Clinic, for some people with a peanut allergy, even tiny amounts of peanuts can cause anaphylaxis, a serious reaction that can even be life-threatening.

Boston Children's Museum responded to the backlash in the comments on their post.

"We want to thank all of you who have shared your concerns with us about the Stonewall Kitchen PB&J Cafe," they posted. "We have read every comment and we take your heartfelt concerns very seriously. We are working with Stonewall Kitchen to find a solution that meets the needs of all families, including those with allergy concerns, and that offers safe and appealing menu options for all families that visit the Museum. We want everyone to feel safe and welcome at the Museum and ask for your patience as we work with Stonewall Kitchen to address the concerns that have been raised."

Still, some concerned parents said that offering more menu options was not an adequate solution. Kayla Jones-Corn, one of the commenters on Facebook, has a 4-year-old son with food allergies, including peanut. She said that the fear of contamination from kids' fingers would keep her away from the museum.

"My 4-year-old son is allergic to peanuts, tree nuts and white fish," Jones-Corn told TODAY Food. "Personally, with the PB&J cafe going into the museum, I would not feel comfortable taking him to the museum. Peanut butter is sticky, and kids are messy. There would be too much of a risk of little peanut buttery hands touching everything and causing a reaction in my son."

While there is a new drug approved for the treatment of peanut allergies, the medication is a safety net, not a cure, so parents must still remain vigilant.

An NBC Boston affiliate reported that on December 1, a Stonewall Kitchen spokesperson said the company was surprised by the reaction online, adding the new restaurant was not actually in the museum, but in their store, which is located inside the museum building.

"Certainly it has given us pause and we are assessing how we can increase messaging in our store about our offerings and encourage hand washing to ensure everyone's safety," the spokesperson said. "We weren't expecting this type of reaction, in part because the café is not inside the museum, and also because the café isn't really all about peanut butter."

The company went on to say that the name was not indicative of all the menu items.

"We just thought that 'PB&J Café' was a cute name, not realizing that some would think that that's the only item, or even the primary item on the menu," Stonewall Kitchen said. "We were certainly not intending to be insensitive to those with allergies."

Whether that will be enough to convince parents like Jones-Corn that its safe to visit remains to be seen.

"We just have to stay on guard and make good decisions," said Jones-Corn. "Sometimes that means we have to skip out on something fun. It's a bummer, but it is what it is. I would never try to dictate what a restaurant can and cannot sell, but I do hope they are willing to implement good safety measures. A hand washing station at the exit of the restaurant would be a good idea."