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Ice cream shop owner denies anti-mask policy after online complaint from immunocompromised family

A mother says her family was turned away for wearing masks, while the shop owner says he has no anti-mask policy.
/ Source: TODAY

EDITOR’S NOTE (May 26, 2022 3:05 p.m. ET): This article has been updated to include comments from a statement sent on Jeremy Buzon’s behalf.

Andrew Fogarty just wanted some ice cream.

So did his mom, Lindsay Fogarty, and her fiancé, Joshua Thomas. They'd driven seven hours from their hometown in Virginia to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee (home of Dolly Parton's "Dollywood"), because Andrew, 10, a boy with autism and a deep interest in all things Titantic, wanted to visit the local museum dedicated to the doomed luxury liner.

Andrew Fogarty, Lindsay Fogarty and Joshua Thomas.
Andrew Fogarty, Lindsay Fogarty and Joshua Thomas.Courtesy Lindsay Fogarty

Alas, not unlike that ship, Andrew, Lindsay and Joshua were about to run into an issue they didn't anticipate.

What transpired between them and the owner of the Kountry Kreamery ice cream shop in Pigeon Forge started as a refusal to take an order from anyone wearing masks, then escalated when Lindsay tweeted about the experience, and is still continuing weeks later, now that her tweet has gone viral.

So, here's the short version of events, according to Fogarty's tweet:

"A grown adult man who owns an ice cream shop in Tennessee made my 10 year old autistic son cry because he wouldn’t sell us ice cream because we wouldn’t take our masks off," she tweeted. "We have rare disease, and are immune compromised. I don’t have words right now. This is the location." She then included a photo of the shop's name, address and phone number.

Fogarty shared her side of events with TODAY Food on May 16. On that day, TODAY reached out to Kountry Kreamery and its owner Jeremy Buzon on multiple social media platforms and by calling Kountry Kreamery, but received no reply. On May 26, TODAY received a emailed letter from Buzon's representative, P. Timothy Grandchamp, of Grandchamp Law in Knoxville, Tennessee.

According to Fogarty, after stopping at the hotel in Pigeon Forge on Friday, May 13, they were hungry for ice cream. Forgarty searched for "kid-friendly ice cream" stores in the area, and landed on one called Kountry Kreamery.

"We showed up there, and it was not kid-friendly," Fogarty says.

According to Fogarty, all three of them entered the store wearing masks. Fogarty and her son have been doing this since pre-COVID-era; she has a host of conditions (including vascular Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, gastroparesis and postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome) that make her immunocompromised.

Her son has mastocytosis, which she says also makes him immunocompromised.

Andrew and Lindsay Fogarty.
Andrew and Lindsay Fogarty.Courtesy Lindsay Fogarty

"I wore a mask before the pandemic way before masks were normalized, so I would always have to tell people I have a compromised immune system and people were like, 'Fine,' that’s it," said Fogarty. "No one ever refused me service for any reason."

As Fogarty recounted, all three family members walked into the shop and waited until Buzon finished serving a couple ahead of them.

"He didn't say anything to us while we were waiting," Fogarty said. "The couple paid and left … and then we walked up to the counter and he tells us, 'No masks,' and points to a sign that says 'no masks while ordering.' I was confused, and my fiancé was confused."

Thomas is not immunocompromised but wears a mask in solidarity with his family. He's also a teacher, used to speaking at volume through two layers of masks, so was open to repeating their order in case Buzon couldn't hear them.

"(Buzon) pointed straight at the door," said Fogarty. "I don't understand how anyone would be willing to not sell ice cream to anyone, but especially a child."

In Grandchamp's letter on behalf of Buzon, some of these facts are not in dispute. But the letter notes that "Kountry Kreamery is a veteran owned business, whose owner suffers from a hearing impairment. In order to allow the store's owner to properly hear a customer's order and ensure that the order is properly taken and processed, a sign is posted at the register of the establishment which requests that all customer's (sic) remove their mask when ordering."

The letter states that Buzon was "unable to hear" Fogarty and that reading lips has helped him "compensate for it" in the past.

"At no time, were either Ms. Fogarty, her fiancé, or her son ever refused service nor requested to vacate the property," reads the letter. "Mr. Buzon recognizes that some individuals may not feel comfortable lowering their mask to order. In those instances, Mr. Buzon provides a pen and paper to allow the customer to write their order down. Unfortunately, due to the fact that Ms. Fogarty and her fiancé chose to leave so quickly, Mr. Buzon was never afforded the opportunity to present that option to Ms. Fogarty."

One reason for that departure was likely that Fogarty says her son "doesn't do well with any kind of confrontation."

"He waited until we walked all the way to the car to be emotional, and for him that’s a really mature response, but he cried so bad at the hotel. It caused him trouble sleeping," she said.

Andrew's "hyperfocusing" on the event led him to think it was his fault. "Andrew was inconsolable about getting ice cream," said Thomas. "His whole thing was, 'What is wrong with me that I don’t deserve ice cream?'"

After returning to the hotel, Fogarty posted the tweet, which has since gone viral. Supporters left so many negative reviews of the shop on Yelp that the website has disabled reviews for now.

Grandchamp’s letter claimed that these reviews have negatively impacted Buzon’s business.

“Mr. Buzon does not have an anti-mask business policy nor does he personally adopt or express any such views,” he continues. “If Mr. Buzon did in fact have an anti-mask policy, why would he post a sign requesting that customers remove their mask(s) to order?”

In the end, everybody got ice cream the next day, at a different location. And there was the tour of the Titanic museum. The ship did not sink, just got blown off course. And Fogarty says she's learned a thing or two for the future.

"We have talked with our son about how we can only control our emotional response to people and we can’t control how people feel about us," she said.

Still, she notes, this kind of reception was "definitely a first. Hopefully a last. I hope my son never has to deal with this again. This really broke his heart."