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Red Mill Burgers co-owner John Shepherd steps down after furor over offensive online comments

Red Mill Burgers co-owner John Shepherd posted on the company’s Facebook page that he is stepping down from his role at the company after he was excoriated on social media for offensive comments, most recently about the five female Seattle City Councilmembers who voted against vacating a SODO street for a possible new sports arena.

Red Mill has restaurants in Phinney Ridge, Ballard and Interbay.

The Stranger had a story yesterday, including Shepherd’s initial Facebook post that called the Councilmembers “bitches,” which he later deleted after the outcry started.

Here’s the full text of Shepherd’s letter of apology:

An Open Letter from John Shepherd

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.

Thank you,

John Shepherd